According to the World Health Organisation, over 50 million people worldwide are affected by some form of dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases each year. With such high volumes of the world’s population suffering from this disease, it becomes more evident as each year passes that we should be making efforts to understand dementia and its different forms.
This article sets out to inform you of the different forms of dementia, their symptoms and stages. This, in turn, will help you better understand your loved one who may be suffering from, or showing signs of these diseases, and ultimately help them live a better quality of life.
Dementia is often thought to be one specific disease. However, it is, in fact, a blanket term used to describe a variety of diseases which cause a decline in mental ability to the point where the symptoms affect daily living. The NHS defines dementia as:
‘...a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning.’
This is the most common form of dementia. It affects a person’s memory, thinking and behaviour. It is a progressive disease as the symptoms slowly worsen over time, where they eventually impact on daily living.
The disease mainly affects those over 65, and the risk increases with age. With that being said, Alzheimer's can affect younger people. According to the NHS, 1 in every 20 cases affects those between 40 and 65 as they show signs of the early stages.
A person with the onset of Alzheimer’s can still live independently and carry out daily tasks as normal, but may have the feeling that they are forgetting small things more than usual.
One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering new information as the disease normally starts to affect the learning part of the brain. During this early stage, memory loss may vary from day to day, but it is persistent and not just a once off.
The most common memory lapses to look out for are:
This is typically the longest stage of Alzheimer’s and can last for years. As your loved one reaches this stage of the disease, they may start to need more care and help carrying out daily tasks.
The key identifiers of the middle stage are:
The final stages of the disease mean individuals need considerable help carrying out daily tasks. They become increasingly unaware of their environment and find it almost impossible to maintain a conversation, except for some odd phrases and words.
Some of the most common features of this stage are:
This is the second most common form of dementia and occurs from reduced blood flow to the brain, normally following a stroke, which deprive oxygen from brain cells. Like Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia is a progressive disease which gradually worsens over time.
There are two forms of vascular dementia. One where the symptoms appear very suddenly, after a large stroke; or one where symptoms develop slowly over time, similar to Alzheimer's, caused by a series of mini strokes known as subcortical vascular dementia. People can in fact suffer from both forms at the same time.
As vascular dementia is a result of decreased blood flow to the brain, those who are at risk of a stroke and heart disease also run the risk of developing this form of dementia. Suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and smoking all increase the risk too.
Early signs of vascular dementia differs from Alzheimer's in that problems with memory aren’t seen as often as they are with Alzheimer's. The symptoms can often be mistaken for depression. The common early signs include:
The symptoms worsen over time and sufferers may experience the same set of symptoms for a long period of time with a sudden change as they may have experienced another small stroke.
As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more like those of Alzheimer’s, with sufferers experiencing:
This form of dementia is caused by abnormal deposits of a protein; called alpha-synuclein. These proteins cause a build up the sections of the brain which control behaviour, cognition and movement. Symptoms are often very similar to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson's, and so it’s often misdiagnosed.
The disease got its name from a scientist, Friederich H. Lewy, who discovered these abnormal proteins while researching Parkinson’s.
Although Lewy Body dementia may not be as widely known as Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association it accounts for 10-25% of cases, making it the third most common form of dementia. As research in the area is still ongoing, it is still not known as to why people develop the disease or who may be more susceptible. Although, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, there may be various factors at play including genetics and environmental factors, alongside ageing.
Lewy Body dementia differs significantly from Alzheimer’s in that it doesn’t progress in the same way. The symptoms of Lewy Body dementia fluctuate and can have varying levels of intensity from day to day. That being said, each stage does have its own key features.
During this stage, symptoms become more similar to those of Parkinson’s, with sufferers experiencing:
Once your loved one reaches this stage of Lewy Body dementia, round the clock care is needed to assist them with daily tasks. Symptoms include:
This is the most uncommon form of dementia. The name ‘frontotemporal’ is derived from the fact that this dementia affects the front and sides of the brain. It’s also a progressive disease which worsens over time. It tends to affect behaviour and language.
One key difference between frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s is that diagnosis occurs much earlier in the former with most being diagnosed in their 40’s and early 60’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in approximately ⅓ of cases this form of dementia is inherited. At the moment, there are no other known risks for frontotemporal dementia other than a family history of the disease.
The earlier symptoms of frontotemporal dementia differ from Alzheimer's in that problems with memory don’t begin to appear until the later stages. The main early symptoms to watch out for are:
Symptoms during this stage stay relatively the same as those seen during the early stage, but may be more prominent or intense. Additional symptoms of this stage are:
The symptoms, again, remain largely the same as those which are seen in the other stages alongside
If you do notice your loved one showing signs of any of the above symptoms, make sure to contact your local health care provider to get it checked out. Although there is no cure for dementia, it’s always better to edge on the side of caution as the earlier you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start helping your loved alleviate some of the symptoms and lead a more comfortable life.
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