Dementia 101: What Are the Different Types of Dementia?

Digital image of brain with spinning wheels

The majority of us have heard of Alzheimer’s disease, even if no one we know has it. These days, there is a lot of focus on both research and awareness about this type of neurocognitive disease, since Congress has issued a charge to find a cure or treatment by 2020. At the same time, you’ve probably heard the term dementia either used in conjunction with Alzheimer’s disease or by itself. 

It’s common for people to think that the words dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are two distinct conditions, or think that the terms can be used interchangeably, says Allison Hicks, Community Liaison of Bluegrass Senior Living. “If you’re just being introduced to these terms, it can be confusing when people involved use them in conjunction with each other,” she says. But actually, dementia is a term that is used to describe a wide range of neurocognitive diseases. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific form of dementia. 

“There are thirteen types of neurocognitive decline that fall under the dementia umbrella, and as we learn more about these diseases, we expect to find even more,” says Allison. “Although different dementias have very similar symptoms – some are practically identical – there are distinct, unique aspects to each one. 

The vast majority of people who develop dementia will have one of five major types: Alzheimers’ disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease dementia and frontotemporal degeneration. Understanding the similarities and differences of each type of dementia can help medical professionals better treat an individual, and friends and family members can know what to look for. 

The 13 Types of Dementia

1. Alzheimer's Disease. Occurring in anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of individuals with neurocognitive disease, Alzheimer’s is by far the most common form of dementia. There’s not one “thing” we can point to in order to determine what causes it, as it seems to be a mix of hereditary, lifestyle and environmental factors. While the discovery of the “Alzheimer’s gene” made waves a few years back, genetics only factor into Alzheimer’s cases in fewer than 5 percent of incidences. Alzheimer’s symptoms are considered to be the classic symptoms of dementia: paranoia, confusion, anxiety, anger, hallucinations and delusions and, of course, memory loss.

2. Vascular Dementia. This is the second-most common type of dementia, and it usually occurs when an individual suffers something that restricts blood flow to the brain, such as a stroke. The symptoms of vascular dementia can be significantly different from Alzheimer’s, depending on what area of the brain is affected. Generally, though, individuals can experience short-term memory issues, hallucinations, inappropriate behaviors and the like. Unlike Alzheimer’s, which has a fairly standard form of progression, vascular dementia progression depends on how and where the brain was damaged.  

3. Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD). This is one of two forms of Lewy body dementia, which forms when abnormal proteins develop in brain nerve cells. The symptoms are very similar to Alzheimer’s, but in this specific form of dementia, motor and mobility issues are present for at least one year before any sort of cognitive issues develop. Anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of individuals with Parkinson’s disease will eventually develop PDD. 

4. Dementia with Lewy Bodies (LBD). The second form of Lewy body dementia, this differs from PDD by brain symptoms developing before any body symptoms occur. It’s identified through symptoms of motor and muscle weakness and rigidity and cognitive issues like attention span, loss of memory and decision-making. 

5. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). CJD is also known as Mad Cow, as it is a form of prion disease. It occurs when prion proteins begin folding abnormally. Symptoms of CJD progress rapidly, and nearly all – 90 percent – of individuals with this form of dementia die within a year. Fortunately, prion diseases are incredibly rare, occurring in one in one million people across the globe per year.

6. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. The “alcoholic’s dementia,” this disorder occurs when someone has a deficiency of vitamin B’1 (thiamine), which can be caused by too much alcohol, bad nutrition and other factors. Wernicke-Korsakoff differs greatly from other forms of dementia in that it can sometimes be lessened or reversed if lifestyle changes are made. 

7. Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD). Also known as frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) or Pick’s disease, this form of dementia doesn’t affect someone’s memory and occurs in “younger” people (as in, 60 years or younger). Symptoms of FTD include reduced empathy, loss of motivation, decreased inhibition, compulsive behaviors, depression and anxiety.

8. Huntington's Disease. A genetically inherited disorder, Huntington’s changes the central area of the brain, which affects mood, judgment and thinking skills as well as motor skills. The sad reality is if you have the gene for Huntington’s, you will develop the disease, which usually occurs between 30 and 50 years of age. 

9. HIV/AIDS Dementia. This form of cognitive decline occurs in individuals with HIV or AIDS. Initially, people have difficulty with memory, attention and concentration and can show some personality and behavioral challenges. 

10. Fatal Familial Insomnia. This rare hereditary condition causes an individual to experience vivid dreams, insomnia, hallucinations and anxiety. As it progresses, motor abilities deteriorate, memory loss develops and eventually the person becomes unable to speak. 

11. Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA). A gradual, progressive deterioration of the brain’s cortex is the hallmark of this form of dementia. The symptoms are very similar to Alzheimer’s disease, but tend to manifest at an earlier age (between 50 and 65 instead of 65 and older).

12. Mixed Dementia. This condition may be more common than we believe, as it describes someone having more than one type of dementia. Symptoms may vary depending on what dementias are present and what brain regions are affected. 

13. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH).This neurodegenerative disease is characterized by excess cerebrospinal fluid building up in the brain’s ventricle, causing mental problems, difficulty walking and loss of bladder control. NPH can sometimes be improved by using a brain shunt to drain fluid. 

“While we can’t always determine exactly what type of dementia an individual has, especially if it’s one of the rarer forms, it’s important to understand the symptoms and do what we can to help the individual have a high quality of life,” says Allison. “Bluegrass Senior Living is dedicated to staying abreast to the developments happening in the field of dementia research, so we can adapt and improve our care to benefit our residents.”

For more information on the different forms of dementia or to learn more about the secure memory care available at our one-of-a-kind community, please contact us at 859-474-4856.

Memory Care: Personalized Support in a Safe, Secure Neighborhood.

Kentucky seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia will find compassionate, personalized support in a secure memory care neighborhood within our campus. Our Neighborhood is designed to establish structure and routine while maintaining dignity and providing empowerment. 

Memory care residents reside in private rooms, with bedrooms featuring natural light and scenic views. All meals are served family-style in our dining room to encourage socialization. Residents can enjoy our secure outdoor patio and garden area without fear of wandering – every entrance and exit of the Neighborhood are secured by access-control keypads.

“With supportive services for seniors of all care levels, regular health assessments, individualized care plans and a focus on fitness and overall wellness, Kentucky seniors and their families can feel confident that Bluegrass Senior Living can be ‘home’ for as long as they wish,” says Allison. “Our engaged lifestyle, full social calendar of activities and events and focus on wellness ensure that you or your loved one will live well in the state they know and love.”

For more information, please call 859-474-7856.