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Understanding the common types of dementia

by Shannon Lee

When someone hears the word "dementia" they often think "Alzheimer's." But there are many other types of dementia that can be just as devastating. This basic primer can help you understand the difficult diagnosis.

Watching a loved one struggle with the effects of aging is no picnic. But when that loved one develops dementia, the normal course of aging suddenly takes on a very different slant. Understanding the types of dementia can help you feel more in control and better-equipped to help your loved one through a difficult diagnosis.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a brain disorder that can result in memory problems, trouble doing day-to-day activities, mood swings, and personality changes. Millions of people are affected by dementia every day, and their symptoms are determined by what type of dementia they have, and how far it has progressed.

What Causes Dementia?

Unfortunately, dementia is a disease that typically worsens over time. Dementia can be caused by many things, including a brain infection, the death of neurons and cells, or a brain injury, such as a stroke or a trauma. Dementia is rarely caused by actions or behaviors.

Common Types of Dementia

Though Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, others can have just as devastating an effect. Here are a few of the common types:

  • Alzheimer's: This accounts for 70 percent of all dementia cases, and affects over 5 million Americans. Symptoms include memory and speech problems, mood swings, disorientation, and an inability to learn.
  • Vascular Dementia: A type of dementia caused by strokes, this usually begins rapidly and can progress very quickly.
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies: Lewy bodies are protein deposits in the brain that can mimic the effects of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
  • Frontotemporal Dementia: Also known as Pick's disease, this type of dementia affects personality first, and can often strike at a younger age than the other common types.

Other Types of Dementia

There are a few lesser-known types of dementia. They might not occur as often as those listed above, but when they can be just as devastating.

  • Dementia Caused by Infectious Disease: Dementia related to HIV/AIDS, encephalitis, neurosyphilis, meningitis, and other infections might be reversible or treatable if caught early enough.
  • Traumatic Injury: A significant injury to the brain increases the chances of dementia, but it is rare, appearing in less than 5 percent of all dementia cases.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease: This form of dementia usually begins with spasms throughout the body. It is caused by a slow-moving virus in the body, and once symptoms appear, progression is usually rapid.
  • Huntington's Disease: An inherited disease, Huntington's can cause problems with memory, changes in personality, and mood swings. Some eventual problems include lack of coordination and involuntary twitching.
  • Alcohol Dementia: This type of dementia can lead to cognitive problems as result of the toxic effects of long-term alcohol abuse.

Learning to Live with Dementia

Dementia can be a very difficult diagnosis to hear, but it is important to always stay positive around your loved one. Talk with your loved one and remind them that you are there to take care of them. Help them feel useful by asking for their opinions and giving them small tasks to complete.

Most of all, be patient with both your loved one and yourself. Dementia exacts a heavy toll, so remember to find support for yourself and your family.

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