As we age, our brains naturally slow down, but if a person has dementia, they can experience cognitive changes that are different to the normal signs of ageing. The word ‘dementia’ can describe a variety of symptoms that can affect a person’s memory, language and behaviour, in addition to a range of other abilities that affect day-to-day life. There are five different kinds of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease, but other forms include:
- Lewy Body Dementia
- Vascular Dementia
- Frontotemporal Dementia
- Mixed Dementia
This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the different types of dementia and a list of the main symptoms that explain how a person might be affected by the disease.
The most common type of progressive dementia is Alzheimer's disease which accounts for two-thirds of all diagnosed forms of dementia. Not all causes of Alzheimer’s are known, but scientists have traced a small percentage to gene mutations that can be inherited. Other factors include the build-up of plaques and tangles in the brain; types of protein that stop the brain from functioning normally. Plaques are clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid, and tangles are made up of tau proteins, all of which cause damage to brain cells.
If a person has Alzheimer’s, they may display a range of symptoms, depending on the cause, but some key signs to look out for include:
- Memory loss such as forgetting recent events, names and faces
- Becoming repetitive, repeating questions or routine behaviours
- Losing items or regularly finding them in unusual places
- Problems communicating or finding the right words
- Getting confused about the time of day, disorientation or getting lost
- Difficulty handling complex tasks
- Some people may become anxious, low in mood or irritable.
- Issues with coordination or motor skills
Lewy Body Dementia
Dementia with Lewy bodies is sometimes called DLB. It is the third most common type of dementia. DLB is caused by the build-up of small balloon-like clumps of protein inside nerve cells in the brain, which then damage the cells. One of the proteins is called alpha-synuclein, and clusters of these proteins are called Lewy bodies. When Lewy bodies build up in the brain, they damage nerve cells and affect the way these brain cells communicate. In DLB, areas of the brain are commonly responsible for our memory, thinking and movement are affected. DLB is closely related to Parkinson’s Disease, but they are different conditions.
If a person has DLB, common signs and symptoms to look out for include:
- Sleep disturbance, including acting out in one’s dreams
- Visual hallucinations, seeing things that aren’t there
- Problems with focus and attention
- Uncoordinated and slow movement, tremors and rigidity
- Difficulty processing information, problem-solving and planning
- Sudden changes in mood and behaviour, such as anxiety, paranoia, delusions, agitation and depression
- Disorientation and increasing confusion over day-to-day activities
- Changes in alertness and engagement
Learn more about Lewy Body Dementia.
Vascular dementia occurs when blood vessels that supply blood to your brain are damaged. Reduced blood flow to the brain can damage brain cells, which can then cause problems with information processing and memory. Blood vessel problems can also cause strokes or affect the brain in other ways by damaging the fibres in the brain's white matter. There are ways that brain training puzzles and exercises can help maintain and re-establish healthy connections in the brain.
If a person has vascular dementia, they may show signs of the following:
- Slower thinking, loss of focus and organisation
- Difficulty processing information or following instructions
- Problems with speaking, finding the right words, slurring or following conversations
- Changes in personality or behaviour, increased mood swings, anxiety, agitation
- Movement problems, difficulty walking or keeping their balance
- Memory problems
- Apathy or becoming detached from the world around them
- Issues analysing situations or understanding social cues
Learn more about Vascular Dementia.
Frontotemporal dementia is the term used for a group of diseases that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These are the areas generally associated with personality, behaviour and language. When there is a breakdown of nerve cells and their connections in these areas of the brain, a person may experience changes in behaviour, personality, cognitive processing, movement and language.
If a person has frontotemporal dementia, they may show signs of the following symptoms:
- Problems with language, difficulty with writing, speaking or following conversations
- Difficulty understanding social cues, they may come across as insensitive or rude
- They may become uninhibited or act impulsively
- They may lose interest in people and things and become detached
- Personality changes, becoming cold and lacking empathy with others
- Repetitive behaviours or routines, such as walking the same route repeatedly or humming and foot-tapping
- Appetite changes like compulsive eating or drinking, suddenly only wanting sweet foods or showing a lack of table manners.
- Poor personal hygiene and lack of self-care
A person with mixed dementia may have a combination of several causes from different forms of dementia. For example, they may have some causes of Alzheimer’s alongside vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Studies are ongoing to determine how having mixed dementia affects symptoms and treatments. A person living with mixed dementia might show a combination of the symptoms from any of the five main dementia types.
Depending on the type of dementia a person has and whether they are in an early stage of the disease, there are brain training exercises that may reduce some symptoms. It can be helpful to know the different forms of dementia to identify possible interventions and support required.
If you or a loved one are experiencing dementia-like symptoms and would like to learn more about dementia and how to care for a loved one living with dementia, please visit our website for more information and explore our dementia-friendly product range.