Types of Dementia and Their Causes

Posted on November 20, 2017 | This post was written by The Woodleigh

If you’ve arrived at this post, it means you’re looking to get up to speed on something you hoped you’d never come across: dementia. Known mostly for its propensity to cause memory loss, dementia affects language and decision-making in addition to memory. As dementia takes hold, behavior and personality begin to change, and once-routine tasks often become difficult. In most cases, this means that some form of dementia care will be needed.

We offer the guide below as a primer on the different types of dementia and their causes inside the brain.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, thought to be responsible for between 60 and 80 percent of dementia cases. The disease is caused by brain cell death. In addition to memory loss, symptoms can include poor judgement, confusion, disorientation, difficulty speaking, walking, and swallowing, and behavior changes. About 5 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are early onset Alzheimer’s, which tends to affect people in their 40s and 50s. While those suffering from Alzheimer’s tend to become depressed, depression is a separate disorder that requires specific treatment.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is one of the rarest forms of dementia. The disease stems from a misfolded prion protein in the brain. Once it occurs, this misfold has a “domino effect” of sorts, causing the prion protein to misfold throughout the brain. For this reason, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease progresses rapidly. Patients suffer confusion, memory loss, and personality changes, as well as twitching and muscle stiffness. Due to its rapid progression, patients typically die within a year of diagnosis.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies, also known as Lewy body dementia, is caused by protein deposits or clumps that form in the brain and affect nerve cells. In addition to memory loss and disorientation, patients commonly experience visual hallucinations, difficulty sleeping at night, and difficulty staying awake during the day. Dementia with Lewy bodies shares some commonalities with Parkinson’s disease, with a propensity to cause imbalance and trembling.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is a blanket term used to describe several different types of dementia, all of which affect the front and sides of the brain. These sections of the brain control language and behavior. Patients often suffer changes in personality and behavior, including a loss of motivation, diminished inhibitions, and compulsive behavior. Frontotemporal dementia tends to develop at a younger age than other forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s.  

Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is a genetic condition. It is a progressive brain disorder that causes the brain’s nerve cells to break down prematurely. Symptoms typically begin in a person’s 30s and 40s, with a rarer juvenile form that can begin to affect people in their childhood or adolescence. The symptoms worsen over time, affecting thinking, reasoning, and personality. Mental symptoms include difficulty focusing and learning new things, as well as a lack of impulse control and issues speaking clearly. Physical symptoms can include jerking movements, and difficulty swallowing and walking.

Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia refers to instances where people suffer symptoms from multiple types of dementia. The most common combination is Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, but there are several other combinations. It is estimated that up to 45 percent of dementia sufferers are afflicted by mixed dementia but don’t know it. Memory loss, disorientation, mood and behavior changes, and difficulty speaking and walking are all common, but their onset can vary depending on when and which types of dementia develop.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is caused by an excessive buildup of naturally-occurring fluid in the brain. The purpose of this fluid is to cushion the brain and spinal cord. Abnormal buildup places extra pressure on the brain, which can cause brain damage and lead to dementia symptoms, including poor balance, changes in mood, and forgetfulness. If caught early enough, surgery can be done to drain the excess fluid, thereby curing NPH and, if done in time, alleviate or prevent dementia symptoms.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is caused by protein buildups affecting the substantia nigra region of the brain. While the disease is most commonly associated with physical symptoms, those suffering from it are also at risk of developing progressive dementia. Symptoms can include difficulty with reasoning and judgement, which in turn affects cognitive understanding and the execution of simple tasks. Hallucinations, irritability, and difficulty speaking may also occur.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia, also known as multi-infarct dementia, is the most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for around 10 percent of dementia cases. It is caused a lack of blood flow to the brain, which is itself caused by blockage or bleeding. These issues typically cause a stroke as well, making vascular dementia a common post-stroke condition. Brain injuries can vary in location, number, and severity, leading to a variety of symptoms for those with vascular dementia. These symptoms can come on suddenly, or appear gradually over time, depending once again on the nature of the brain injury or injuries. Symptoms can include hallucination, vision issues, confusion and disorientation, and impairments to judgement, concentration, planning, and organization.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

This is a combination of two different conditions that are typically grouped together. Wernicke’s disease, also known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy, is a disorder caused by a severe vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. The symptoms of Wernicke’s disease are physical, and include double vision and lack of muscle coordination. As Wernicke’s disease advances, it causes Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder that impairs the ability to process information and learn new skills, and severely impacts memory. While there are multiple causes for the initial lack of vitamin B1, it is most commonly a symptom of alcoholism.

If you have additional questions about the different types of dementia and what your loved one may be suffering from, please don’t hesitate to contact The Woodleigh of Baton Rouge. As dementia progresses, it’s often necessary to look into memory care. Our memory care facility in Baton Rouge, LA offers comprehensive care for those suffering from dementia.