If your doctor tells you that your loved one has dementia, it means he’s got a brain condition that causes problems with thinking and memory. It’s important to understand the different types so he can get the right kind of treatment.
Although most types of dementia get worse over time, there are drugs that might help with some of your loved one’s behavior changes and other symptoms.
This is the most common type of dementia, and it affects about 5 million Americans.
If someone you know has Alzheimer’s, you’ll notice symptoms such as memory loss and trouble planning and doing familiar tasks.
The symptoms are mild at first but get worse over a number of years. Your friend or relative might:
Be confused about where he is or what day or year it is
Have problems speaking or writing
Lose things and be unable to backtrack to find them
Show poor judgment
Have mood and personality changes
If a relative or friend of yours gets this type of dementia, it’s usually because he’s had a major stroke, or one or more “silent” strokes, which can happen without him realizing it.
The type of dementia symptoms depend on the part of the brain that’s affected by the stroke.
While Alzheimer’s usually begins with memory problems, vascular dementia more often begins with poor judgment or trouble in planning, organizing, and making decisions.
Other symptoms may include:
Memory problems that disrupt your loved one’s daily life
Trouble speaking or understanding speech
Problems recognizing sights and sounds that used to be familiar
Being confused or agitated
Changes in personality and mood
Problems walking and having frequent falls
Dementia With Lewy Bodies (DLB)
Lewy bodies are microscopic deposits of a protein that form in some people’s brains. They’re named after the scientist who discovered them.
If someone you know gets dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), it’s because these deposits have formed in the part of the brain called the cortex.
The symptoms of DLB include:
Problems thinking clearly, making decisions, or paying attention
Seeing things that aren’t there, known as visual hallucinations
Unusual sleepiness during the day
Periods of “blanking out” or staring
Problems with movement, including trembling, slowness, and trouble walking
Dreams where you act out physically, including, talking, walking, and kicking
Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
This type of dementia eventually develops in about 50% to 80% of people with Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the nervous system.
Parkinson’s disease dementia is very similar to DLB. They have the same symptoms, and people with both conditions have signs of Lewy bodies in their brains.
On average, the symptoms of dementia develop about 10 years after a person first gets Parkinson’s disease.
This is a combination of two types of dementia. The most common combination is Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Both symptoms and treatment depend on the parts of the brain involved and the types of dementia present.
Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
If your loved one has an FTD, he’s developed cell damage in areas of the brain that control planning and judgment, emotions, speech, and some types of movement.
The symptoms might include:
Personality and behavior changes
Sudden lack of inhibitions in personal and social situations
Problems coming up with the right words for things when speaking
Movement problems, such as shakiness, balance problems, and muscle spasms
This is a brain disorder caused by a genetic defect that’s passed through family members. While your loved one might have the gene for Huntington’s disease at birth, the symptoms will usually not start to show up until he’s between ages 30 and 50.
People with Huntington’s get some of the same symptoms seen in other forms of dementia, including problems with:
Thinking and reasoning
Planning and organizing
This is a rare condition in which proteins called prions cause normal proteins in the brain to start folding into abnormal shapes. The damage leads to dementia symptoms that happen suddenly and quickly get worse.
The symptoms include:
Memory and concentration problems
Your loved one might also have twitching or jerky muscles and trouble walking.
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
This type of dementia is caused by a buildup of fluid in the brain. The symptoms include problems walking, trouble thinking and concentrating, and personality and behavior changes.
Some symptoms can be treated by draining the extra fluid from the brain into the abdomen through a long, thin tube, called a shunt.
This disorder is caused by a severe shortage of thiamine (vitamin B-1) in the body. It most commonly happens in people who are long-term heavy drinkers.
The dementia symptom that’s most common with this condition is a problem with memory. Usually a person’s problem-solving and thinking skills aren’t affected.
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