The memory loss that can come with aging can often be mistakenly diagnosed as dementia. While memory loss can, in fact, be a normal part of aging, the serious mental decline that is associated with dementia is not.
When we think of dementia, we most commonly associate it with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia by far, affecting 60% to 80% of people suffering from dementia. However, there are many other types of dementia, some of which have symptoms that are treatable and reversible.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease in itself. It’s actually a general term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with loss of memory and other mental abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Physical changes in the brain or damage to brain cells cause dementia; when cells in the brain cannot communicate as they should, a person’s ability to think clearly, their memory, behavior and feelings can all be affected.
Several types of dementia are progressive, meaning that the symptoms will gradually worsen over time. All symptoms of dementia vary based on the individual and the type of dementia, but in general at least two core mental functions must be greatly impaired: memory, communication and language, ability to reason, judgment, and focus, or visual perception.
Dementia Types and Symptoms
Some of the most common types of dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease: The most common dementia type, Alzheimer’s disease, accounts for up to 80% of cases. Symptoms include memory issues, like difficulty remembering loved ones’ names and recent conversations, confusion, behavior changes, trouble speaking and swallowing.
- Lewy Body Dementia: Dementia with Lewy bodies affects nearly 1.4 million people in the United States. Like Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and confusion are the main symptoms; however, others include issues with sleeping, movement and hallucinations early on in the diagnosis.
- Vascular Dementia: Vascular dementia occurs after a stroke, therefore it was previously known as post-stroke dementia. It only occurs in about 10% of dementia cases. Impaired judgment and difficulty making plans or staying organized and making decisions are usually the initial symptoms, as opposed to issues with memory.
- Mixed Dementia: Vascular and Lewy body dementia can also be present at the same time as the brain changes of Alzheimer’s disease, leading to what is called mixed dementia. This happens more commonly than previously thought, with each brain abnormality contributing to the development of dementia.
- Parkinson’s Disease: Parkinson’s disease generally progresses into dementia similar to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies. Issues with movement are the main symptom of Parkinson’s.
- Huntington’s Disease: Huntington’s disease is caused by a gene defect that causes abnormalities in a brain protein. Over time, symptoms like abnormal involuntary movements, severe decline in thinking skills and mood changes will worsen as the disease progresses.
Other common types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Wernick-Korsakoff Syndrome and normal pressure hydrocephalus.
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