Dementia is a brain disorder and isn’t a normal part of ageing. It is caused when brain cells die more quickly than in normal aging. Over time, people with dementia experience a loss of memory and other mental abilities. It can be severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Dementia and its effects can manifest differently in different persons. To better understand and manage the care of your loved one with dementia, start first by uncovering what form of dementia they have and understand the symptoms they experience.
For most who are diagnosed with dementia, they typically belong to one of these 3 commonly observed types of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by brain cell death and is the most common form of dementia, making up 60 to 80% of all cases. Older adults are more susceptible to this form of dementia.
Early signs include depression, short-term memory loss, confusion, mood changes and trouble speaking and walking as the condition progresses.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, comprising 20% of all dementia cases, and is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. It tends to be more prevalent among older adults and may be related to atherosclerotic disease or stroke. Symptoms may appear progressively or suddenly, depending on the cause.
In the early stages, confusion and disorientation are common signs, but in the later stages, people may face trouble concentrating and completing tasks. Problems with vision and hallucinations may occur as well.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy bodies are small round clumps of protein that build up inside the brain’s nerve cells, disrupting neural signals and communication.
This causes memory loss, disorientation and visual hallucination. Sometimes, people may also have trouble falling asleep at night or unexpectedly fall asleep in the day. Many of the symptoms experienced by people with Lewy body dementia are similar to those with Alzheimer or Parkinson diseases.
There are other forms of dementia which are less common, some (such as the Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) dementia) can even be controlled or reversed when proper treatment is sought.
Parkinson’s disease, at advanced stages, may lead to dementia.
Early symptoms include problems with reasoning and judgement, and can develop into confusion, hallucinations, irritability, depression, paranoia and speech difficulties as the condition progresses.
Frontotemporal dementia, also known as Pick’s disease, is a term used to describe several types of dementia which affects the front and side of the brain – areas that control language and behaviour. It can affect people as young as 45 years old.
Naturally, most of the symptoms of those with frontotemporal dementia revolves around behaviour and language, including loss of inhibitions and motivation, compulsive behaviour and forgetting the meaning of common words.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is one of the rarest forms of dementia, with only 1 in 1 million being diagnosed with this condition. It progresses rapidly, and people often die within a year of diagnosis.
Its symptoms are similar to other forms of dementia, including confusion, memory loss, agitation and depression. Those with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease may also experience muscle twitching and stiffness.
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Wernicke’s disease and Korsakoff syndrome are two separate but linked conditions, often grouped together and known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Technically, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is not a form of dementia, but has similar symptoms hence is often classified under it.
Wernicke disease, also known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy, occurs due to bleeding in the lower sections of the brain caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency. This vitamin deficiency could arise from malnutrition or chronic infections, but the most common cause is alcoholism.
Left untreated, physical symptoms such as double vision and a loss of muscle coordination tend to reduce, as signs of Korsakoff syndrome surface. Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include difficulty in processing information, learning new skills and remembering things.
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a condition that causes fluid build-up in the brain’s ventricles, affecting its tissue and leading to dementia symptoms. Some potential causes of this condition includes injury, bleeding, infection, brain tumour and previous brain surgeries.
Those with the condition may experience poor balance, forgetfulness, mood swings, depression, frequent falls and loss of bowel or bladder control.
Thankfully, NPH may be reversed, controlled and cured with surgery, hence it is important to seek treatment as early as possible to reduce brain damage.
Huntington’s disease is a genetic condition and onset of dementia symptoms tend to occur in younger adults. Due to premature breakdown of the brain’s nerve cells, this condition can cause dementia and impaired movement.
There are two types of Huntington’s disease: juvenile and adult onset, which corresponds to when the symptoms first appear. Symptoms for those with the juvenile form tend to appear during childhood or adolescence, while those with the adult form tend to only experience symptoms in their 30s or 40s.
Besides the physical symptoms of jerking, difficulty walking and trouble swallowing, dementia-related symptoms include difficulty focusing on tasks, impulse control problems, trouble speaking clearly and difficulty learning new things.
Mixed dementia occurs when a person has more than one form of dementia and is relatively common. In fact, 45% of those with mixed dementia are unaware of it. The most common combination is vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
While the symptoms vary depending on the varying combination, most people will experience difficulty speaking and walking as the condition progresses.
If you or someone you know need support in caring for a loved one with dementia, we can help.