Knowledge is power. And understanding certain things about dementia – including signs and symptoms – can make the journey more manageable and can alleviate the burden created by fears and unknowns.
Here are 10 common types of dementia, along with their signs and symptoms:
1. Alzheimer’s disease
Known as the most common form of dementia, people often confuse Alzheimer’s and dementia as separate diseases, when in reality Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. The most common signs and symptoms include frequent forgetfulness, atypical depression and poor judgment. While an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be difficult to accept, prompt diagnosis is paramount as many therapies exist to help slow progression and create solutions to daily struggles.
2. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
While Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) is less common than Alzheimer’s disease, it is the most common form of brain disorders associated with “mad cow disease.” It occurs in mammals and can be passed – in certain circumstances – from cattle to human. Unfortunately, CJD is considered a fatal brain disease, and is fast moving. Common symptoms of this form of dementia include impaired memory and diminished coordination. It results in behavioral changes that are often the first sign to friends and family that something serious is wrong. If you suspect that you or someone you love may have CJD, it is critical that you seek medical help immediately.
3. Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
As is the case with many forms of dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is often misdiagnosed in the beginning as Alzheimer’s disease. Many of the initial symptoms that bring a person into the medical office look like Alzheimer’s disease, including memory loss and problems with clear thinking. Sleep disturbances and gait imbalance are also common symptoms that cause people to wonder if they have Parkinson’s disease as opposed to dementia. That said, DLB is unique in that it collects Lewy bodies (or clumps of protein) in a specific pattern within the brain, so it is possible to diagnose (and differentiate from Parkinson’s disease) with the proper tests. When specific protein clumps form in the cortex of the brain, dementia is often the result.
4. Frontotemporal dementia
It can be hard to differentiate and diagnose specific forms of dementia – given the overlap of symptoms and inability to see regularly inside the brain – and frontotemporal dementia is no exception. Attributes unique to frontotemporal dementia include a younger age of onset (typically 60 or less) and shorter survival. Symptoms include changes to personality and in behavior, and difficulty with speaking. Specifically, the nerves in the front and side of the brain are affected by this form of dementia. Skilled doctors and professionals are able to observe and differentiate the symptoms.
5. Huntington’s disease
More commonly known than most other forms of dementia, Huntington’s disease is a brain disorder that is progressive and caused by one defective gene on chromosome 4. Its symptoms include random involuntary movement, severe decline in clear reasoning or thinking and atypical irritability or depression (along with other changes in mood). The defective gene changes the brain protein and leads to worsening symptoms.
6. Mixed dementia
Continuing research shows mixed dementia to be more common than previously thought. Common symptoms include confusion, mood changes and loss of memory. Medical care should be sought immediately if you or a family member are experiencing dementia symptoms, as options do exist to lessen or slow progression of the disease.
7. Normal pressure hydrocephalus
Normal pressure hydrocephalus is a unique form of dementia that results from an excess of fluid building up on the brain. Sometimes this excess can be surgically corrected by the installation of a shunt to drain the fluid. The symptoms include difficulty with walking, loss of memory and struggle (or inability) controlling urination.
8. Parkinson’s disease
Though Parkinson’s disease is not considered dementia, it is not uncommon for Parkinson’s disease to progress to the point that Parkinson’s disease dementia results. Common symptoms include problems with movement and symptoms frequently associated with Alzheimer’s disease (including loss of memory or changes in mood). One item to note: As Parkinson’s disease continues to change the brain, it is common for the nerve cells that produce the body’s dopamine to degenerate.
9. Vascular dementia
Also known as post-stroke dementia, this form of dementia is less common and only accounts for roughly 10% of dementia cases. Common symptoms include impaired judgment or a struggle to make decisions and plan. In fact, the inability to organize thoughts or plans is often the first symptom that denotes a problem and brings a patient into the office. This dementia results from blockage in the blood vessels that can lead to bleeding on the brain and create strokes or bleeding within the brain.
10. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a memory disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin B-1. Most frequently, this form of dementia is associated with alcohol abuse. Symptoms are similar to other forms of dementia and include memory loss, though other skills (such as social or cognitive) may not be or seem affected in general. Alcohol abuse suppresses thiamine which is responsible for producing energy from sugar. When this happens, the brain’s cells cannot generate the energy necessary to function as needed, and dementia symptoms ensue.
The bottom line is dementia research has come a long way. Skilled medical professionals can do much to slow or lessen symptoms and should be sought out right away.
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