8 Types of Dementia
Dementia, or a neurocognitive disorder (NCD) as is it now clinically called, is a term that describes a collection of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.
The devastating effects of dementia affect 47.5 million people worldwide today, and that is estimated to more than triple by 2050. Dementia permeates into every aspect of a patient’s life, and has an enormous impact on their families and caregivers.
There are many different types of dementia— and they are not created equal. Knowing the key features of each type of dementia can help in the accurate diagnosis of patients, so they can receive the treatment, care, and support appropriate for their condition and maintain their quality of life.
Here are 8 common types of dementia, and their associated signs and symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Roughly half of all people 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. The disease can be broken into three stages: Early, middle, and later stages. Early symptoms include forgetfulness (such as not changing clothes), apathy and depression. Later symptoms include behavior changes, impaired communication, confusion, poor judgment, and difficulty swallowing and walking.
Accounting for roughly 20 to 30 percent of dementia cases, vascular dementia often occurs after a change in brain activity such as that caused by a stroke. Initial symptoms include impaired judgment or ability to make decisions, plan or organize, and difficulty finding the right words.
Dementia with Lewy bodies
Dementia with Lewy bodies is one of the most common types of dementia. Like Alzheimer’s, people with dementia with Lewy bodies often have memory loss and thinking problems, but they are also more likely to have symptoms such as sleep disturbances, hallucinations, and muscle rigidity. Other common symptoms include fluctuations in attention, slowed movement and walking, and depression. Dementia with Lewy bodies is more common in people with Parkinson’s disease.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
Most people with FTD are diagnosed in their 40s and early 60s. Behavioral changes, including apathy and impulsive behavior, are often the first noticeable symptoms in FTD. Frontotemporal degenerations are inherited in about a third of all cases. Genetic testing is now available for people with a family history.
Huntington’s is a genetic disorder that can cause symptoms including abnormal involuntary movements, a severe decline in thinking and reasoning skills, and irritability, depression and other mood changes. Symptoms of Huntington's disease usually develop between ages 30 and 50. Anyone with a parent with Huntington’s has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease. Genetic testing can determine who will acquire Huntington’s.
Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder caused by severe deficiencies of vitamin B-1 (thiamin), most commonly caused by alcohol misuse. Symptoms include problems learning new information, inability to remember recent events and long-term memory gaps. While memory loss may be severe, other thinking and social skills may seem relatively unaffected. Available data suggest that about 25 percent of those who develop Korsakoff syndrome eventually recover, about half improve but don't recover completely, and about 25 percent remain unchanged.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
Emerging evidence suggests that individuals who have had repeated traumatic brain injuries (concussions) or multiple blows to the head, such as professional athletes, are at higher risk of developing CTE. Potential symptoms include problems with thinking and memory, personality changes, and behavioral changes including aggression. The new movie "Concussion" with Will Smith has heightened awareness of CTE.
While most dementias cannot be cured, there are some that are reversible. These can often be caused by vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, or an adverse reaction to medication. These types of dementias can be diagnosed with routine laboratory tests and should cease with the right course of treatment.
Delivering the frightening diagnosis of dementia to a patient and their loved ones is extremely difficult. But with a clear diagnosis, the patient can receive better medical care and make informed decisions about their lives for both the present and the future.
For more information visit ALZ.org or National Institute on Aging. The Alzheimer's Association also has a 24/7 helpline managed by seasoned medical professionals. Call toll-free anytime day or night at 1.800.272.3900.