The Three Most Common Types of Dementia and Their Differences

For anyone who is responsible for the care of someone suffering from dementia it is important to know about the different types of dementia, and what particular form of the disease he or she is dealing with. Whether a healthcare professional or a family member, the more that is known about the disease the better the demands of the patient’s care can be handled.

Each of the following three types of dementia have different causes and can affect the patient differently. All have common symptoms and the only way to determine the type of dementia in a patient is through a thorough examination by an expert.

The three most common types of dementia are:

1. Alzheimer’s Disease
2. Vascular Dementia
3. Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Let’s take a look at each of the types of dementia in a bit more detail:

Alzheimer’s Disease

This most common form of dementia is not curable and is irreversible. It first affects memory and progresses to destroying the patient’s other cognitive skills like the ability to reason, speak, move, and eat.

This disease is not a normal step in the aging process, but people are more apt to develop Alzheimer’s as they age, with symptoms often appearing after the age of 60. Plaques and tangles form inside the brain causing chemical deficiencies. It is believed that this can start to have an effect on the memory center long before a person shows any symptoms. It can take 8 to 10 years for the disease to progress to its worst stage.

Even though there is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the progress of the disease can be slowed by a number of treatment options.

Vascular Dementia

This is a type of dementia that, like Alzheimer’s disease, causes loss of memory and cognitive abilities and most commonly affects patients over the age of 60. But unlike Alzheimer’s where the symptoms come on gradually, the symptoms of vascular dementia may come on more quickly, with memory loss being one of the last symptoms to appear.

Vascular dementia is different from Alzheimer’s in that it is caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain, commonly caused by strokes. Atherosclerosis– the shrinking of the blood vessels, allowing for fatty deposits to collect– can also be a cause, as well as high blood pressure. Regardless of the cause of blood vessel damage, the result is the same — decreased blood flow the brain.

Approximately 20% of all dementia cases are vascular, making it the second most common type. Risk factors include a history of heart attacks, strokes – especially multiple strokes, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

This is the third most common form of dementia and is caused by build-ups of a certain type of protein in the brain. These deposits are called Lewy bodies and they effect a person’s perception, behavior, and thinking. Lewy bodies are often found in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s patients, making this form of dementia harder to diagnose.

Unlike Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, most of the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies resemble those of Parkinson’s disease, such as muscle stiffness, slow movements or a shuffle when walking, falling, and tremors. Unlike any other form of dementia, this form also can present with hallucinations, severe sleep issues, acting out dreams, and extreme drowsiness followed by sudden spurts of energy.

This has been just a brief overview of the three most common types of dementia. As you can see, many symptoms can overlap and it can be difficult to properly diagnose a patient suffering from dementia. If you suspect that a loved one is suffering from any of these types of dementia, it’s best to take him or her to a specialist for further diagnosis, and to always stay as informed as possible as a caregiver.