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Your Guide to the Common Types of Dementia

May 1, 2022

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If a parent or family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, it can be an overwhelming time, and you may be wondering what you should expect next.

  • What do you do now?
  • How will your loved one’s condition progress?
  • What does this mean for the future?

The term dementia includes different conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, and each type of dementia impacts a person differently. After receiving a dementia diagnosis, you should try to learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition to know what to expect, how to manage symptoms and how to prepare for the future.

To help you get started, our team at Franciscan Ministries is sharing a basic guide to the common types of dementia, including their causes and symptoms.

What is Dementia?

According to the National Institute on Aging, “dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning – thinking, remembering, and reasoning – to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.”

Additionally, dementia is a progressive condition (one that will worsen over time). This makes it even more important to know and understand which type of dementia your parent or family member has been diagnosed with, so you can figure out a dementia care plan with their doctor.

What Causes Dementia?

The Mayo Clinic states, “dementia is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that’s affected by the damage, dementia can affect people differently and cause different symptoms.”

Even though what causes the damage or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain is still unknown, risk factors have been shown to increase the likelihood of individuals developing a type of dementia.

Controllable Risk Factors Include:

  • An Inactive Lifestyle
  • A Lack of Proper Nutrition
  • High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol

Uncontrollable Risk Factors Include:

  • Increasing Age
  • Family History of Dementia

Common Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s Disease

Accounting for 60% to 80% of all cases, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have plaques (clumps of the beta-amyloid protein) and tangles (fibrous tangles of the tau protein) in their brains. As more and more of these plaques and tangles form in the brain, they damage healthy neurons and their connections, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Loss of initiative and spontaneity
  • Taking longer to complete everyday tasks
  • Wandering or getting lost in familiar places
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Difficulty with language – reading, writing and speaking
  • Shortened attention span
  • Confusion about time
  • Trouble recognizing friends and family
  • Increased anxiety and agitation

Vascular Dementia

“Vascular dementia is a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to various regions of the brain, depriving them of oxygen and nutrients (”

Even though it is considered a common type of dementia, many experts believe it often goes undiagnosed. It is estimated that “about 5% to 10% of people with dementia have vascular dementia alone.” However, it is often seen as part of a mixed dementia diagnosis.

Common symptoms associated with vascular dementia include:

  • Memory problems that affect daily life
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty recognizing familiar sights or sounds
  • Increased confusion or agitation
  • Changes in personality or mood
  • Having trouble with balance and walking

Lewy Body Dementia

“Lewy body dementia is a disease associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. These deposits, called Lewy bodies, affect chemicals in the brain whose changes, in turn, can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood (National Institute on Aging).”

Lewy body dementia, also referred to as dementia with Lewy bodies, is the third most common type of dementia. Common symptoms may include:

  • Hunched posture
  • Rigid muscles
  • A shuffling walk
  • Trouble with thinking clearly or making decisions
  • Shortened attention span
  • Memory loss
  • Unusual sleepiness during the day
  • Periods of staring or “blanking out”

Doing what you can to help your loved one delay the progression of their cognitive condition starts with understanding it. While there is currently no cure for dementia, memory and dementia care services, like those offered at Franciscan Ministries communities, can support your family and help your loved one maintain their cognitive health.

If you would like to learn more about our communities and memory care services, visit our website or contact a member of our team.