Dementia is a term used to describe conditions that cause memory loss, impact language skills, and inhibit other thinking abilities. It can also cause changes to mood, emotions, and behaviour. In most cases, dementia is a progressive condition, worsening over time.
Perhaps the most well-known type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is not the only form of dementia a person may develop.
Types of Dementia
Between roughly 39,000 and 55,000 people in Ireland are thought to have dementia. There are over 400 types of dementia. Many are linked to other conditions. The most common forms of dementia, known as the four main types, are:
- Alzheimer’s Disease – Between 60 and 80% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s. Due to this high proportion of cases, most people will think of Alzheimer’s when they hear people discussing dementia.
- Vascular Dementia – This form of dementia is usually caused by damage by a lack of blood flow.
- Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) – Lewy bodies are tiny protein deposits that form in the brain, affecting its functions. If they form in the cortex, they can cause dementia.
- Frontotemporal Dementia – The third most common form of dementia amongst under-65s.
However, with there being so many forms of dementia, this is only scratching the surface. Whilst these are amongst the most common, there are other forms, such as:
- Mixed dementia – people diagnosed with more than one type of dementia
- Alcoholic dementia – also known as alcohol-related brain damage
- Huntington’s disease
- Dementia with Parkinson’s disease
- Posterior corticol atrophy – this form of dementia often affects eyesight
Symptoms of Dementia
Though there are many different forms of dementia, they are characterised by specific symptoms. Certain symptoms will be related to a single type of dementia. However, there are some symptoms common to all types.
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Finding it hard to perform daily tasks (e.g. getting confused when shopping)
- Struggling to follow a conversation
- Unable to find the right words
- Confusion about time or place
- Sudden mood changes
Often, these symptoms can be early signs of dementia. You may not notice them in yourself, but they will become apparent to the people around you. These symptoms are often referred to as “mild cognitive impairment”. Mild cognitive impairment does not necessarily mean someone has dementia. However, it is a sign that they should consult their GP.
Symptoms of Specific Types of Dementia
When discussing dementia symptoms, it is important to cover symptoms that relate to the different types of dementia. Whilst there are too many types of dementia to be covered in their entirety, we will cover the symptoms of the four most common forms.
- Memory problems (e.g. forgetting faces, events, or names)
- Asking repetitive questions
- Struggling with tasks and activities that require planning or organisation
- Easily confused in unfamiliar environments
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Struggling with numbers or handling money
- Becoming withdrawn or anxious
- Muscle weakness or temporary paralysis, similar to stroke symptoms
- Difficulties walking or changes to movement
- Struggling to pay attention, or challenges when planning and reasoning
- Mood changes and depression
Lewy Bodies Dementia
- Changing levels of confusion, switching between being alert or tired
- Visual hallucinations
- Slowed physical movements
- Falling or fainting
- Disturbed sleep
- Changes to personality, such as reduced empathy
- Loss of social awareness
- Struggles with language, such as understanding words
- Developing obsessions, such as overeating specific foods
It is also important to cover the symptoms of later stages of dementia. In these stages, people living with dementia can struggle to care for themselves, requiring constant support. Symptoms include:
- Memory problems, including not recognising family or friends, or even their surroundings
- Struggling to communicate, which can sometimes include loss of verbal communication
- Experiencing mobility problems, eventually requiring aid to walk or requiring a wheelchair
- Becoming more aggressive, experiencing depression and anxiety, and/or wandering
- Loss of appetite, sometimes connected to trouble eating or swallowing
What Causes Dementia?
Knowing the symptoms of dementia does not tell the full story. Like many health conditions, it does not suddenly occur without cause. Often, the development of dementia is directly linked to other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Often, the development of dementia is directly linked to a build-up of proteins in the brain.
These proteins impede the functioning of nerve cells, reducing the effectiveness with which the brain processes information. Over time, these nerve cells die, which then causes areas of the brain to shrink.
Alzheimer’s and Lewy Bodies Dementia are two types that are characterised by a build-up of proteins.
However, dementia can also be caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. This, like protein build-up, results in damage to brain cells. Often, vascular dementia develops as a result of a stroke, when the brain’s blood supply is suddenly cut off. However, vascular dementia could also result from a blockage in the blood vessels inside the brain.
For people with Huntington’s disease, it is a faulty gene that affects the brain, gradually stopping part of it from working. This is a rare condition, but it can result in dementia symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is not currently a cure for dementia. Research is ongoing, but there are, fortunately, medications that can slow dementia development or ease symptoms.
One of these medicine types is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Examples include donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine. This medication is usually used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and has been found to help other forms of dementia it works by breaking down a chemical in the brain, which then allows nerve cells to communicate.
Alternatively, people with dementia may be prescribed with memantine. This is another medication that works well for dementia caused by Alzheimer’s or Lew bodies. Memantine blocks the effects of a chemical called glutamate.
In other cases, medicine is used to treat other conditions that could increase your risk of dementia. Conditions affecting the cardiovascular system tend to be prioritised.
There are also treatments for dementia that do not involve medicine. These take the form of therapies, such as cognitive stimulation therapy, to help improve memory, problem-solving skills, and language. This can help to slow the effects of dementia.
Support at Home from Lifeline24
Whether you are living with dementia or not, it’s important to feel safe at home. A personal alarm from Lifeline24 offers peace of mind in the comfort of your home. In the event of a fall, or if you feel unwell, a simple press of your pendant alarm sends an alert to our 24/7 Response Team.
The team will arrange help on your behalf by contacting your emergency contacts. If necessary, they will also inform the emergency services.
For extra reassurance, you can opt for our fall detector plan. This will raise an automatic alert if it sense that you have fallen suddenly.