What is Dementia?

Dementia is a classification of symptoms that include, but are not limited to, problems with memory, judgement, thinking, word finding, personality changes and changes in behavior. Dementia is a NOT a normal part of aging. People diagnosed with dementia are usually over the age of 65 however it can affect people in their 40’s and 50’s too. Unfortunately, dementia gets worse over time.

There are over 100 different types of dementia.

Dementia is a classification of symptoms but the type of dementia is determined through medical and mental status tests. An MRI or CT scan may be used to look at your brain to help identify what type of dementia you have. There is no cure for dementia but there are treatments that can slow down the progression.

60-80% of people diagnosed with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US.

If there’s no cure, then why does the type of dementia matter?

Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia (such as Pick disease) are all disorders of the brain itself. Knowing which type of dementia you have can help your loved ones to care for you as the disease progresses.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease causes problems with memory, thinking and reasoning. Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time until it impairs all of your activities of daily living.

Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and ways to help include :

  • short-term memory loss-you may repeat the same thing several times,
    • use photos, books, music and video to recall long-term memories
  • difficulty in following directions or doing tasks step by step
    • only give limited information
    • allow time for the information to process
  • difficulty communicating
    • sometimes singing what needs to be said helps
    • use pictures or descriptions

Vascular Dementia

Vascular Dementia, sometimes called Multi-Infarct Dementia is the second most common form of dementia. Vascular Dementia occurs when the the brain has been starved of oxygen due to mini-strokes also known as Trans-Ischemic Attacks (TIAs).

Signs of Vascular Dementia and ways to help include :

  • No sign at all to complete confusion
    • controlling high blood pressure and diabetes may limit the speed of progression
    • light exercise is recommended but strenuous exercise may increase confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Sleep walking
    • Make sure doors are locked
  • Numb hands and feet
    • encourage movement of feet before trying to stand to prevent falling

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body Dementia, is caused by an abnormal build-up of protein in the brain. It is associated

with Parkinson’s-related dementia, however not everyone who has Parkinson’s Disease will have dementia.

Signs of Lewy Body Dementia and ways to help include :

  • REM sleep disturbance
  • Vivid hallucinations & delusions
    • avoid negative news
  • Repeated falls and fainting
    • assist with walking from the dominant hand side
  • Tremors that come and go
    • use thick-handled cups plates & utensils

Frontotemporal Dementia or Pick’s Disease

Frontotemporal dementia also known as Pick’s disease, is brain damage to the frontal and temporal area of the brain caused by the progression of Pick’s disease.

Signs of Frontotemporal dementia also known as Pick’s disease and ways to help include :

  • Extreme changes in personality
  • Behavior changes that mimic Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia
    • use hand gestures with verbal communication
  • Agitation when routine is changed
    • maintain routine and limit changes to environment
  • Difficulty completing a sentence
    • photos may help cue -for instance a photo of the toilet on the bathroom door
  • Compulsive behavior

Why Should I care?

Certain medication may slow the progression but dementia always gets worse over time.

Knowing the type of dementia and what to expect allows caretakers to assist you

in maintaining your independence and quality of life.