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Types of Dementia

 
There are many, many different types of dementia, each with its own disease process, typical symptoms, and treatment. The most common types of dementia are described here. If you or a loved-one has been diagnosed with a type of dementia that has not been described, we urge you to contact an AGI counselor for more information and guidance on the particular diagnosis.
 
  • What is Dementia?

    Description
    Vascular dementia occurs when brain cells are damaged by a vascular event that affected the brain, usually a stroke or series of small strokes (MID). When a stroke occurs, blood vessels in the brain either burst or are blocked by blood clots. This damages or destroys the surrounding brain cells. The symptoms the person will experience depend on what are of the brain was affected by the stroke. The onset of vascular dementia might be sudden (because of a major stroke) or gradual (because of a series of small strokes the person may not be aware of).

    Symptoms
    Vascular dementia affects each individual differently. If you or your loved-one has been diagnosed with this type of dementia, it will be important to consult with your neurologist and with a specialist counselor at AGI to determine what areas of the brain are affected and what behavioural symptoms are the likely results of the brain damage. This way, you will be able to anticipate challenges and adapt accordingly to support the dementia.

    Treatment
    Treatment for vascular dementia is focused on reducing the risk of further strokes. Typically, vascular dementia is characterized by periods of stability and of sudden decline. The declines coincide with new strokes. When someone is diagnosed with vascular dementia, it is crucial for their caregivers to know the stroke warning signs. Click here to learn the signs.
 
 
  • Fronto-temporal Dementia (FTD)

    Description
    Fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) is a name given to any dementia that is primarily affecting the front part (or frontal lobe) of the brain. One form of fronto-temporal dementia is Pick’s Disease. Like Alzheimer’s disease, the onset of FTD is usually gradual

    Symptoms
    The frontal lobe is your brain’s manager. It’s responsible for the “executive” tasks your brain does: understanding social conventions, managing and acting on emotions in a socially appropriate way, impulse control, abstract thinking, problem-solving, judgment, planning, self-awareness and self-monitoring, organization, attention and concentration, mental flexibility and expressive language (speaking).

    When the frontal lobe is damaged, we observe behavioural symptoms like personality changes, lack of judgment, inappropriate or uninhibited behaviour, difficulty remembering the meaning of words, social withdrawal, lack of imagination, and general irritability and moodiness. Frequently, the person experiencing FTD is not aware of the changes and may become angry or aggressive if confronted about his behaviour.

    The frontal lobe of the brain is the last part to develop, and is not fully formed until human beings are in their 20’s. For this reason, caregivers of someone experiencing FTD will often observe that the person is “behaving like a teenager.” It is crucial to remember that, while the person with FTD and a teenager might have similar challenges (eg. difficulty with empathy, imagining herself in someone else’s shoes), her expectations for how she will be treated is very different. She is, and feels like an adult and she expects to be accorded the respect, rights and freedoms that an adult enjoys.

    Treatment
    Currently, there are no medications to treat, slow or reverse, the brain damage caused by FTD. There are, however, medications that can help manage the behavioural symptoms associated with disease. These include medications for depression, delusions and hallucinations, and anxiety.
 
 
  • Lewy Body Disease

    Description
    Lewy Body Disease is a form of dementia that is caused by a build-up of abnormal structures, called Lewy Bodies, in the parts of the brain. It can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can mimic both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Many scientists believe that the three diseases are related. Like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the onset of Lewy Body Disease is gradual, and the brain damage gets worse over time.

    Symptoms
    The symptoms of Lewy Body disease include both cognitive decline (dementia symptoms) and physical symptoms that resemble Parkinson’s (tremors, rigidity, slow movement and abnormal gait). The dementia is often mild at the onset of the condition, with impairments to memory, visual-spatial skills, language and decision-making.

    Compared to Alzheimer’s disease, people with Lewy Body disease typically have more problems with visual-spatial activities, such as drawing or copying. People experiencing Lewy Body disease often have reasonably good short-term memory but have difficulty with attention and concentration. Another characteristic is the presence of visual hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations often occur when the person wakes up. Caregivers need to learn how to safely respond to those moments when the person experiencing Lewy Body disease is acutely disoriented, delusional or hallucinating.

    Treatment
    At this time, there is no treatment or cure for Lewy Body disease. There are, however, medications that address symptoms like hallucinations and delusions, anxiety and depression.
 
 
  • Parkinson’s disease

    Description
    Some people with Parkinson’s develop dementia in the later stages of the disease. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries signals between neurons, the kind of cells found in the brain. Parkinson’s affects the cells that produce dopamine, killing them off, and affecting the functioning of the brain cells, especially those in the motor control (movement) centre of the brain. The onset of Parkinson’s is gradual, and the disease is degenerative.

    Symptoms
    Typically, early Parkinson’s symptoms include tremor, slowness and stiffness, impaired balance, and rigid muscles. As the disease progresses, more areas of the brain are affected and non-motor symptoms can appear, including changes in cognition. For more information on Parkinson’s disease, click here to consult the Parkinson’s Society of Canada.

    Treatment
    At this time, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, although a number of interventions can improve prognosis and quality of life. Sometimes, surgeries and medications can mitigate the physical decline associated with the disease. Physio-therapy is often introduced to improve mobility, flexibility and balance. Occupational therapy helps the person manage day-to-day activities. Speech therapy can help with voice control and exercise strengthens muscles and improves overall health.
 
 
  • Mixed Dementia and Other forms

    Further complicating matters, many individuals are diagnosed with “mixed dementia.” This means that the doctor has observed signs that the person is experiencing two or more different kinds of dementia at the same time. If you or a loved-one has been diagnosed with “mixed dementia,” we urge you to seek further information from your medical professional, such as what specific types of dementia are present.

    Please feel free to consult with an AGI professional to better understand the implications of the diagnosis.
    Contact an AGI counsellor - 514-485-7233