Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used interchangeably, which is understandable considering they both describe a decline in mental ability. However, dementia isn’t actually a disease. It’s an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain—including Alzheimer’s.
That’s right. Alzheimer’s disease is actually a specific type of dementia, and it’s not the only kind. And when it comes to the many types of dementia, each have their own set of symptoms and causes. It’s confusing trying to figure out what dementia means when you’re used to hearing the term so broadly, but we’re here to help. Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, and what they really mean.
Types Of Dementia
In addition to Alzheimer’s, there are other types of diseases that cause dementia. The various forms of dementia tend to be grouped by what they have in common, such as the part of the brain that’s affected and whether they get worse over time. Alzheimer’s is the most common, accounting for 60–80 percent of dementia cases, but it’s also possible for someone to have more than one type of dementia. Here are some other common types of dementia:
Alzheimer’s in particular causes causes impairment in memory and cognitive function. Those experiencing early stages of Alzheimer’s often begin forgetting newly learned information, as the changes begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As the disease progresses, symptoms get worse and patients may experience behavioral changes, disorientation, impaired judgment and even difficulty speaking.
Vascular dementia accounts for about 10 percent of dementia cases, and it’s characterized by a decline in thinking skills. Unlike Alzheimer’s, memory loss is not the main symptom of vascular dementia. Instead, those affected may show an impaired ability to make decisions, plan or organize.
Dementia With Lewy Bodies (DLB)
DLB is the third most common dementia. Like people with Alzheimer’s, people affected by DLB experience memory loss, but they are also more likely to experience sleep disturbances, well-formed visual hallucinations, slowness and Parkinson’s symptoms.
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by problems with movement. Symptoms can be similar to DLB and can also include issues with memory and the ability to pay attention, make sound judgments and plan the steps needed to complete a task.
Huntington’s disease is caused by a single defective gene on chromosome 4, and it affects both the mind and the body. The most common symptom is uncontrolled movement of the arms, legs, head, face and upper body. Patients may also exhibit changes in mood and a decline in thinking and reasoning skills.
Symptoms Can Be Similar, But May Vary
Symptoms of dementia can vary in severity. Someone with dementia could experience mild symptoms such as forgetfulness but, as their disease progresses, may also experience memory loss and confusion, issues with personal care and hygiene, poor decision making, and even depression and aggression. It’s also possible to exhibit symptoms of multiple types of dementia.
Causes Of Dementia Can Differ
Dementia is more likely to occur as you age, and it results when certain brain cells are damaged. Many different factors can cause dementia, including degenerative diseases, vascular diseases, infections, metabolic issues, chronic drug use, depression and more.
Alzheimer’s has its own specific origins, as it occurs when abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain that sever cell connections. A person’s risk has a lot to do with genetics, although lifestyle factors play a role, too.
Prevention Might Be Possible
Research is still ongoing as to whether or not Alzheimer’s can be prevented but, so far, it looks promising. One study from 2014 found that reducing certain risk factors—such as controlling diabetes and high blood pressure, reducing weight if obese, exercising, managing depression and quitting smoking—can decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s by 33 percent.
As far as preventing other forms of dementia, it’s important to keep the brain active (think crossword puzzles, reading, etc.), eat a healthy diet, exercise and maintain a healthy social life.
Treatment And Outlook Vary
Outlook for dementia depends on the specific cause. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, although people with other types of dementia may be able to at least manage their condition or slow down their disease. Most are irreversible and worsen over time. However, there are currently medications that can help control the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, although they can’t stall progression or cure the disease.
Lifestyle changes can help with other types of dementia, but each particular disease has its own specific course of action. Some types of dementia, like Parkinson’s, can be treated with certain medications. Others require different types of therapy.
If you or anyone you know is exhibiting signs of dementia, it’s important to see a doctor right away, as they can give you the proper diagnosis.