About Dementia

Dementia refers to a group of conditions that cause loss of cognitive function, such as memory loss and impaired judgment, that is severe enough to impact a person’s ability to accomplish basic everyday activities. While some forms of dementia are temporary or reversible, those that are permanent and progressive are highlighted in this article.

Symptoms associated with dementia should not be brushed off as a sign of normal aging . If you or a family member are suffering from symptoms that point to a possible dementia diagnosis, you should make an appointment to consult with a medical professional. This is important since some types of dementia are reversible and may cause less permanent damage when treated promptly. During the visit the medical professional will review medical history and run tests. They will also analyze symptoms to see if they meet certain criteria before making a diagnosis.

There are more than 100 types of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type. Each type of dementia has its own set of symptoms and those experienced by each person will vary. It’s vital to have the correct dementia diagnosis, so you can better understand the condition with which you, a family member or friend have been diagnosed.

A person with dementia may have problems as they attempt to accomplish basic everyday activities such as dressing and grooming, cooking a meal, venturing outside their home and balancing a checkbook. Some types of dementia may be present long before symptoms become noticeable while others manifest quickly. Some forms of dementia will gradually worsen over time while others are reversible and can be easily treated.

SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS

Each person with dementia experiences their own unique signs and symptoms; however, there are common signs and symptoms that may be noticed when someone has dementia. These may include:

  • Memory loss — This is frequently one of the first signs of dementia.
  • Communication and language difficulties — Dementia can cause a person to have trouble finding the correct words to use in normal conversations.
  • Behavior changes — Individuals may start to have variances in their personality as the disease progresses.
  • Sleep disturbances — All older adults have some difficulties with sleep; however, those with dementia frequently awaken during the night and have trouble sleeping during normal hours.
  • Sundowning — Sundowning, where behaviors start or worsen in the afternoon and evening hours, can be common for some with dementia.
  • Depression — Emotional well-being and mental health are often affected.
  • Hallucinations — A person’s perception of the world around them may be altered.

When a medical professional makes a diagnosis, they look for the impairment of two or more cognitive functions, which may include:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language capabilities
  • Visual perception
  • Attention and focus
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Disorientation

When a doctor is able to give a dementia diagnosis but is unable to determine the specific type of dementia, they may refer the patient to a neurologist for further testing.

TREATMENT AND CARE OF DEMENTIA

After determining the type of dementia and considering the symptoms, a medical professional will determine the best route of treatment. For progressive dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the goal will be to lessen and slow the progression of symptoms. Treatment methodologies may include:

  • Prescriptions to control and improve symptoms
  • Vitamins and minerals to address deficiencies
  • Occupational therapies
  • The discontinuing of any medications that are contributing to symptoms such as disorientation

TYPES OF DEMENTIA

It’s important to understand the types, treatment and causes of dementia. This section will cover the common types of progressive dementia and their differences as well as supportive care options.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-70% of all dementia diagnoses. Alzheimer’s is an incurable, progressive dementia. Although the disease is present long before symptoms become noticeable, symptoms typically manifest sometime after the age of 60. Age is one of the greatest risk factors in the development. It generally takes 8-10 years for Alzheimer’s to progress to its final stage.

Common Alzheimer’s symptoms include:

  • Loss of memory
  • Misplacing objects
  • Difficulty with problem-solving or task completion and difficulty with writing

Treatment is aimed at slowing down the disease’s progression and managing symptoms.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is the second most common type of progressive dementia.  DLB results from an unnatural buildup of proteins, called Lewy bodies, in the cortex of the brain. These proteins cause damage to the part of the brain responsible for thinking, memory and movement.  Treatment goals work to reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Typical dementia with Lewy bodies symptoms includes:

  • Memory loss
  • Parkinson’s disease symptoms (slowed movement, shuffling walk, tremor, rigid muscles)
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Hallucinations and mood changes

Lewy bodies are also present in other types of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s dementia leading researchers to speculate if these types of dementia are related.

Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia results when an individual has abnormalities linked to more than one type of dementia, generally Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Symptoms vary widely and are based on the types of dementia involved and the areas of the brain that are affected. Experts are unsure just how many people have mixed dementia, but recent studies indicate that it’s more common than once was thought.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is an umbrella term for many different brain disorders resulting from the destruction of brain cells at the front and sides of the brain. The most common form of FTD is Pick’s disease. Alzheimer’s and FTD share similarities, although FTD generally occurs 20 years earlier between the ages of 40 and 45.

Common FTD symptoms include:

  • Memory loss
  • Problems with balance
  • Speech difficulties
  • Personality changes and many others

Treatment is aimed at slowing down the disease’s progression and managing symptoms.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is caused by the buildup of plaque in the brain with symptoms that can progress, improve or remain stable. A person who has MCI is at a greater risk of developing a progressive form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment goals work towards the reduction of symptoms.

Mild cognitive impairment symptoms are mild and may include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty interpreting instructions and many others

Symptoms are noticeable but typically don’t interfere with a person’s ability to function and live independently.

Parkinson’s Dementia

50-80% percent of Parkinson’s disease patients will eventually develop Parkinson’s dementia, generally occurring ten years after the movement symptoms first begin. Treatment goals are set in place to reduce symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Deterioration in memory, reasoning and thinking
  • Muffled speech
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), more popularly known as “mad cow disease,” causes a very rapid decline in reasoning and thinking. CJD is caused by an infectious protein that forms sponge-like lesions throughout the brain.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has many of the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s; however, deterioration occurs in a matter of months as opposed to the decades experienced with Alzheimer’s. It also shares some of the involuntary muscle movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Treatment is aimed towards the management of the symptoms of the disease.

Symptoms may include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Problems swallowing
  • Agitation
  • A rapid decline of memory
Huntington’s Dementia

Occurring in conjunction with Huntington’s disease, Huntington’s dementia is genetic, meaning someone with the disease has a 50% chance of passing it to their children. In the early stages of the disease, symptoms include parkinsonism. In the latter stages, a gradual decline in memory and thinking skills occur along with changes in mood and behavior. Treatment goals are set in place to reduce symptoms.

Huntington’s dementia symptoms often appear between the ages of 30 and 50. Symptoms may include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Parkinsonism
  • Mood swings
  • Slurred speech
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), another progressive form of dementia, results from a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid inside the brain which puts extra pressure on the brain. Treatment goals include reducing symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. Treatment may include surgery to allow excess fluid to drain.

NPH symptoms may include:

  • Slowed thought processes
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulties with thinking and reasoning
  • Apathy
  • Reduced concentration
  • Shuffling gait
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Changes in behavior and personality.

The effects of some of the symptoms may be reversed if treatment is received in a timely manner.

Posterior Cortical Atrophy

Posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), also referred to as Benson’s syndrome, may be a variant of Alzheimer’s disease. PCA is the result of damage to the posterior cortex. PCA begins with difficulties processing visual information and later progresses to affect memory and other cognitive functions. Treatment goals are set in place to reduce symptoms.

Common PCA symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty reading text or judging distances
  • Problems using common objects
  • Recurrent disorientation
Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia, accounts for 5-10% of all dementia cases. Vascular dementia results from a large stroke or a series of smaller “mini-strokes,” causing the brain to receive inadequate blood flow resulting in damage. Vascular dementia is not progressive since damage occurs only when a stroke happens and worsens only when another stroke ensues. Treatment goals generally include medications to prevent another stroke.

Vascular dementia symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Vision difficulties depending on which part of the brain has been damaged

Tudor Heights understands the importance of excellent memory care in Towson, MD, near Baltimore. Download our memory care resource guide or contact us to learn more about our Baltimore memory care community.


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