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Understanding the Different Types of Dementia

When most people think about dementia, they are most likely thinking about Alzheimer’s disease. For many, the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are nearly synonymous—with nearly 5.5 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that’s between 60 and 80 percent of all diagnosed forms of dementia. But there are several dozen forms of dementia and understanding the differences between them can help guide important care decisions. 

Dementia is an overall term that includes Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia, and many more. 

The evolution of how we refer to the disease reflects medical knowledge. Dementia used to be referred to as ‘senility’, reflecting a belief that dementia was a normal part of aging. As the medical community’s understanding of this disease has grown, the ways dementia affects the brain are better understood, even if as underlying causes remain a mystery.

Different Types of Dementia

Common Types of Dementia 

The majority of people with dementia are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. First defined as a distinctive disease in 1906, it was originally reserved for people with dementia who were between the ages of 45 and 65. Nearly 70 years later, the definition was expanded to include people of all ages with common symptoms and a similar disease course. 

It is believed that Alzheimer’s is caused by the buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain—abnormal proteins—that damage the structures of brain cells and eventually destroy the connections between them. This ultimately disrupts the ability of the brain to perform normal functions like memory and speech and eventually causing damage to core biological processes leading to death. 

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is usually framed in stages, with differing symptoms for early, middle and late stages. The progression of Alzheimer’s may vary widely from individual to individual, but generally results in an increasing loss of memory, a declining ability to perform activities of daily living such as paying bills, keeping track of medications, and an eventual loss of physical functions. 

The second most commonly diagnosed form of dementia is vascular dementia. As is apparent from the name, this dementia is caused by the blockage or shrinking of blood vessels to the brain, which deprives the brain of necessary oxygen and other nutrients. 

Vascular dementia can occur after a stroke, or alongside the progression of other types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Many of the symptoms associated with vascular dementia are the same as those with Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that five to ten percent of diagnosed dementias fall under the vascular dementia classification, although because vascular dementia can occur along with Alzheimer’s, some experts feel this number may be larger. 

The third most common form of dementia is called Lewy body dementia and, like Alzheimer’s, is also caused by abnormal protein structures in the brain. However, in this case, the proteins target the brain’s nerve structures rather than the brain cells themselves, as in Alzheimer’s. 

Lewy body dementia shares several symptoms and characteristics with Parkinson’s disease, and it is thought that the two diseases may be linked to the same originating cause. Increased difficulty moving or maintaining balance, well-formed visual hallucinations and memory loss are all typical symptoms of Lewy body dementia. As with many types of dementia, people with Lewy body dementia may also have Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia symptoms.

The Need for Dementia-Specific Care 

The commonality across all types of dementia is the stress and confusion that will impact both the person with dementia and their families and caregivers. The presentation of these diseases is unique to each individual, and therefore one-size-fits-all models of care don’t provide the safety or comfort that a highly personalized care plan can deliver. 

Dementia is more than just losing your memory: it challenges a person’s very notions of identity. At ComfortCare Homes, we reinforce the dignity and aid the health of our residents with engagement programming that supports the whole person, and intentionally designed environments that promote feelings of security and familiarity. 

If you’re considering professional care for your loved one with dementia, reach out to ComfortCare Homes for a free consultation. For more than 25 years, we’ve specialized exclusively in dementia care. ComfortCare Homes is the best choice for care of all types of dementia diagnoses. Call 316-685-3322 today.

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