What exactly is dementia? Is it Alzheimer’s? Although many people equate the two, the terms are not synonymous. Dementia refers to a variety of conditions that cause memory loss. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a form of dementia. If a senior family member is suffering from dementia, it is important to determine which type it is. By doing so, it is possible to identify not only the probable causes of the condition, but also the most promising methods of managing its symptoms.
Types of Dementia
• Alzheimer’s: The majority of dementia cases stem from Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the older you get, the more your risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases. Family history and genetics may also play a role.
• Vascular Dementia: Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, says the Alzheimer’s Association. This form of dementia results from an interruption in the flow of blood to the brain from a stroke, diabetes, or advanced heart disease.
• Lewy Body Dementia: Lewy-Body disease, in which protein deposits develop on nerve cells in the brain stem, causes Lewy Body Dementia, the third most common type of dementia.
• Parkinson’s disease Dementia: Dementia frequently occurs in people with Parkinson’s disease, a fairly common disease that causes changes in the brain.
• Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS): There is a clear cause of WKS: a Vitamin B thiamine deficiency, typical of alcoholics, cancer patients, long-term dialysis patients and people suffering from malnutrition.
• Frontaltemporal dementia (FTD): FTD, formerly known as Pick’s disease, stems from damage to nerve cells in the frontal lobes of the brain.
• Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH): NPH is a brain disorder that causes accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain’s cavities.
• Creutzfeldt-Jacob Dementia (CJD): CJD, which many people refer to as mad cow disease, is extremely rare. The disease is caused by changes in proteins called prions. Contrary to popular belief, only a small percentage of cases results from consumption of tainted meat.
• Huntington’s disease: Dementia is a symptom of Huntington’s disease, which results from a gene defect and runs in families.
• Mixed Dementia: Many people who have dementia have more than one type, notes the Alzheimer’s Association. The most common combinations are Alzheimer’s/Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s/Lewy Body Dementia.
Clearly, dementia can take many forms. If you suspect that a family member has dementia, you need not despair. Mild cognitive changes are, in many instances, a normal part of aging, and not necessarily indicative of dementia. Do not jump to conclusions without consulting a doctor. In addition, keep in mind that some forms of dementia are treatable. WKS, for example, can be reversed with thiamine replacement therapy, and NPH can be ameliorated with the insertion of a shunt. Finally, be aware that there are several promising scientific developments underway that could treat Alzheimer’s or detect it earlier. These developments extend to improved training techniques for caregivers.
A diagnosis of irreversible dementia affecting someone we love can be discouraging. That said, there are ways to improve the situation. Do not lose hope.