Although Alzheimer’s Disease is well known as an ailment among the aging population, it is just one of eleven different types of dementia. Each of the dementia types includes some similar symptoms, but certain features do distinguish them. Specialists must often be consulted to settle on a diagnosis and treatment plan. Learn more about the eleven dementia types:
1. Alzheimer’s Disease
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. Given its relatively higher diagnostic rates, this disorder is more well-known among the general population. The common symptoms include a decline in cognitive abilities and escalating memory loss. At the extreme, individuals with Alzheimer’s become unable to care for themselves. Genetics seems to play a big role in the disorder. Plaques and tangles form within the brain, which progressively damage and destroy nerve cells.
2. Vascular Dementia
The second most common cause of dementia, Vascular Dementia is due to reduced or blocked blood flow to various regions of the brain. More specifically, the lack of blood flow deprives parts of the brain of oxygen and nutrients, which eventually damages and destroys vital nerve cells. This form of dementia can have a sudden onset after a stroke, when a blood vessel has suddenly become entirely blocked. This form of dementia can occur along with others, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
3. Lewy Body Dementia
This is the third most common type of dementia, following Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia. Like other dementias, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) involves a decline in thinking abilities, and eventually a significant decline in the ability to function independently. Like Alzheimer’s, the symptoms of LBD have a progressive onset. It seems to be abnormal microscopic deposits in the brain that gradually damage brain cells, causing the concurrent symptoms of dementia.
4. Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
Another well-known disorder is Parkinson’s disease. This disorder is primarily associated with a progressive decline in motor control and function. However, symptoms of dementia can occur along with the other symptoms. Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease can exhibit a loss of memory, reduced attention, poor decision-making abilities, and the inability to plan/carry out tasks. The mental symptoms seem to be due to deposits in the brain of alpha-synuclein (like those found in Lewy Body Dementia).
5. Huntington’s Disease
Another disorder that may sound familiar is Huntington’s Disease. This disorder has genetic underpinnings, linked to a defective gene on Chromosome 4. Like Parkinson’s Disorder, it involves changes in movement and thinking. There are also typically changes in mood, such as symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some individuals also demonstrate obsessive compulsive behaviors. This disorder typically onsets between age 30 and 50, although it can appear earlier or later.
6. Frontotemporal Dementia
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD; previously called Pick’s disease, also known as frontotemporal degenerations) involves progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes and temporal lobes due to protein build-up. As nerve cells in those regions become damaged, functions decline and deteriorate. This results in changes in behavior and even personality. People may also demonstrate a loss for the ability to produce and comprehend language (called Primary Progressive Aphasia; PPA).
7. Korsakoff Syndrome
Due to a severe deficiency of thiamine (also known as Vitamin B1), Korsakoff syndrome also causes symptoms of severe memory loss. Thiamine is crucial for the brain because it helps the brain cells use sugar to produce energy. Without thiamine, the brain cannot produce the energy it needs. This vitamin deficiency is often the result of alcohol misuse. However, cancer and AIDS can also cause this deficit. The onset of Korsakoff’s syndrome is often preceded by Wernicke Encephalopathy.
8. Creutzfelt-Jakob Disease
This disorder is relatively rare, affecting only one in one million people. One of several prion diseases, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occurs when prion proteins begin folding into an abnormal shape in the brain. These then begin destroying normal brain cells. Symptoms include a decline in thinking, reasoning, confusion, mood changes, and difficulties with involuntary muscle movements. After the onset of the disorder, these symptoms appear and worsen quite quickly.
9. Posterior Cortical Atrophy
In Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA) there is a gradual but progressive degeneration to the outer layer of the brain, known as the cortex. This occurs in the posterior or back portion of the brain. Research is still examining this disorder because some individuals show tangles and plaques, Lewy bodies, and/or malformed proteins, as seen in the other forms of dementia. It is unclear whether this disorder is unique or caused by another form of dementia or perhaps a subtype of some other form of dementia.
10. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
When excess cerebrospinal fluid builds in the brain’s ventricles, it can cause cognitive problems, among other symptoms. This is seen in the dementia type called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. This disorder can be difficult to diagnose because the pressure in the brain measures normal. Treatment involves inserting a shunt (a tube) to drain off the excess fluid from the brain. That fluid can be redirected to the abdomen. The root cause for this disorder is typically brain injury, infection, or inflammation.
11. Mixed Dementia
As the name implies, in Mixed Dementia, there are various symptoms characteristic of multiple types of dementia. It appears that typically, the abnormal protein deposits seen in Alzheimer’s Disease occur along with vascular problems and/or Lewy Bodies. Sometimes these complex cases cannot be fully diagnosed until an autopsy is performed. Doctors use the latest medications and treatments to address the apparent disorders and slow the progression of the symptoms.