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Coping with a Dementia Diagnosis: The Different Types of Dementia

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As September is World Alzheimer’s Month, it is a perfect time to focus on learning about and raising awareness of the different types of dementia. Though the word “dementia” is often used as an umbrella term to describe a memory-loss related disease, there are many different types of dementia that affect individuals around the world, with each specific disease displaying slightly different symptoms. Dementia can be an especially painful disease for those afflicted and their loved ones, so it is important to understand the varying symptoms and what to do if you think someone you know may have dementia.

What is Dementia?

According to the Dementia Society of America, “dementia is not a specific disease, [but] a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain.” Dementia is characterized by the result of changes in certain brain regions that cause the nerve cells and their connections to stop working properly. People with dementia often have drastically impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with their normal activities and relationships. It is important to note that although about one-third of all people aged 85 and older develop some form of dementia, it is not a normal part of aging. Many people live long, healthy lives without developing any symptoms of a dementia-related disease, and many organizations in the world are currently dedicated to finding a cure.

Types of Dementia

There are different types of dementia that are caused when different parts of the brain are affected by a loss of neurons and brain functionality. A few types of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: This is the most common diagnosis and causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) leading to the death of brain cells. In the early stages of this disease, some common characteristics are forgetfulness of recent events and conversations. However, this often develops into more significant memory loss and an inability for the individual to carry on their usual daily activities.
  • Lewy Body Dementia: This is the second most common form of dementia, caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein, called “Lewy bodies” in the regions of the brain that involve thinking, memory, and movement. It is characterized by visual hallucinations, movement disorders, sleep difficulties, cognitive problems, and poor regulation of body functions. Those who have a family history of a previous dementia condition are more at risk of developing this disease.
  • Vascular Dementia: This type of dementia includes the loss of brain function that occurs due to a disruption of blood flow to the brain, which leads to the impairment of functions such as reasoning, memory, and planning capabilities. Vascular dementia may occur after a stroke, and may also be characterized by confusion, restlessness unsteady gait, frequent urge to urinate and inability to control passing urine, and depression.
  • Frontotemporal Dementia: This rare form of dementia tends to occur in people younger than 60 and is associated with abnormal amounts or forms of the proteins tau and TDP-43. It affects the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain— parts that are responsible for personality development, behavior, and language. The symptoms developed largely depend on which side of the brain is affected by the disease.
  • Mixed Dementia: This is a combination of two or more types of dementia, often occurring when plaques that characterize Alzheimer’s disease affect the blood vessels and reduce blood supply to the brain, leading to vascular dementia. Mixed dementia presents a variety of symptoms which may vary on a spectrum of all the diseases that are involved, and in extremely rare cases, three conditions can coexist.

What Can You Do to Help Your Loved One?

The possibility of a dementia diagnosis is a scary thought. Although there is currently no cure, there are certain activities, medications and support that will help. It is important to get your loved one properly diagnosed and cared for if you think they might have a form of dementia. A medical professional may officially diagnose dementia by performing a physical exam, considering the patient’s medical and family history, and taking into account if certain medications may cause or worsen the symptoms.

There are a few procedures that may also be used to diagnose dementia, which includes cognitive and neurological tests, brain scans, genetic tests, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests, and blood tests. Early detection of dementia is essential as some causes can be successfully treated, so it is important to seek out professional medical help as soon as you see fit.

Lastly, the best way to combat dementia in all its forms is to consider the possibility of your loved one being diagnosed and thoroughly plan out the logistics of their care.  The best care for many individuals, especially once their disease is in the later stages and they need help with their regular routine, is to move them to a senior care center where they are met with around the clock care for their diagnosis.

The All Points Program™ at WSL

At WSL, our All Points Program™ is our unique approach to care for individuals at any stage of cognitive impairment. This program is our specialty, as we incorporate the latest Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Care Practice Recommendations and strive to inspire comfort and trust through a nurturing environment with attentive, loving, and qualified support. Our personalized approach includes a specialty-trained staff and use of the latest advances and techniques in an adaptive environment with daily enrichment for all residents.

WSL is here to help you and your loved one through all forms and stages of dementia diseases.  As we conclude World Alzheimer’s Month, WSL is continuing to help raise Alzheimer’s awareness this fall. The WSL staff and community will be participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s 2023 in Portsmouth on Sunday, October 1st and are raising funds towards finding a cure. If you are interested in making a donation or walking with us, please visit our page or email– thank you!