A condition I find many people misunderstand is Dementia. This is because for some people Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are the same thing, when in fact Alzheimer’s Disease is one form of Dementia. Just as there are a large range of Cancer illnesses such as Leukaemia or Prostate Cancer, there are a large range of illnesses which are types of Dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness. It is a symptom of several underlying diseases and brain disorders. Dementia is not a single disease, but a general term to describe symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, and thinking.
Dementia includes the following conditions:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Vascular Dementia
- Lewy body Dementia
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Frontotemporal Dementia/ Pick’s Disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
- Mixed dementia- When a person has more then one type of Dementia
- Normal pressure Hydrocephalus
- Huntington’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease: This is the most common form of Dementia and according to the Alzheimer’s Association 60- 80% of Dementia patients have this form of the illness. In it is early stages Alzheimer’s Disease can cause patients to feel depressed. Depression is not a symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease and being diagnosed with Depression does not mean that you will develop Alzheimer’s Disease. Early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease also include difficulty remembering names as well as short term memory issues.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by brain cell death. As the disease progresses, people experience confusion and mood changes. They also have trouble speaking and walking. Alzheimer’s Disease is more likely to develop in older adults, however 5% of early onset cases develop in people between 40 and 50.
Vascular Dementia: This is the second most common form of Dementia. Lack of blood flow to the brain causes the illness. Vascular Dementia can happen as you age and can be related to atherosclerotic disease or stroke. Depending on the cause the symptoms of Vascular Dementia can develop over time or develop suddenly. Common early signs are confusion and disorientation. Vascular Dementia can also cause hallucinations and vision problems.
Lewy body Dementia: This is the form of Dementia Robin Williams is believed to have had before he died. Lewy body Dementia is caused by protein deposits in nerve cells, which disrupts chemical messages to the brain causing memory loss and disorientation in patients. Visual hallucinations can also be experienced by Lewy body Dementia patients. Lewy body Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease share many of the same symptoms making it difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Many patients with Lewy body Dementia develop trembling in their hands, have trouble walking, and feel weak.
Parkinson’s Disease: Many patients of advanced Parkinson’s Disease will develop Dementia. Issues with reasoning and judgements can be early signs. Patient’s may have confusing or frightening hallucinations. Parkinson’s Disease Dementia can cause irritability, depression or cause the patient to become paranoid as the illness progresses. Patients may also have difficulty speaking, remembering words or lose where they are in the conversation.
Frontotemporal Dementia/ Pick’s Disease: Frontotemporal Dementia is a name used to describe several types of dementia, all with one thing in common: They affect the front and side parts of the brain, which are the areas that control language and behaviour. Frontotemporal Dementia is also known as Pick’s disease. This form of Dementia can affect people as young as 45 years old. Scientist’s do not yet know the exact cause; however, it is known that Frontotemporal Dementia does run in families. Patients with Frontotemporal Dementia have mutations in certain genes according to the Alzheimer’s Society. Frontotemporal Dementia causes loss of inhibitions and motivation, as well as compulsive behaviour. It also causes patients to have problems with speech, including forgetting the meaning of common words.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, (CJD) is an extremely rare type of Dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association report that 1 in 1 million people are diagnosed with CJD each year. CJD has similar symptoms to other types of Dementia such as Depression, memory loss, confusion, and agitation. CJD affects the body as well, causing twitching and muscle stiffness.
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: This type of Dementia, also known as Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, is a brain condition caused by a lack of vitamin B1, resulting in bleeding to the lower sections of the brain. If left untreated Wernicke’s Encephalopathies physical symptoms begin to reduce and the signs of Korsakoff Syndrome develop. Korsakoff syndrome is a memory disorder caused by advanced Wernicke’s disease. People with Korsakoff syndrome may have trouble, processing information, learning new skills as well as remembering things.
Mixed Dementia: This is when a patient has more then one form of Dementia.This is common with the most common combination being Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia. This affected my Nan on my Mum’s side of the family, becoming more advanced over the last four years of her life. According to the Jersey Alzheimer’s Association, up to 45% of patients with dementia have mixed dementia but do not know it.
Normal pressure Hydrocephalus: Normal pressure Hydrocephalus, (NPH) causes a build up of excess fluid in a patient’s brain ventricles. The brain’s ventricles are fluid-filled spaces designed to protect a patient’s brain and spinal cord. An excessive amount of fluid places extra pressure on the brain, causing damage which leads to symptoms of Dementia. An estimated 5% of Dementia cases are caused by NPH.
Huntington’s Disease: Huntington’s Disease is a genetic condition which causes Dementia. There are two types, Juvenile and Adult Onset. Adult Onset is more common with patients showing signs in their 30’s or 40’s. Huntington’s Disease causes premature breakdown of the brain’s nerve cells, leading to Dementia and impaired movement. Symptoms associated with Huntington’s disease include impaired movements, such as jerking, difficulty walking, and trouble swallowing. Dementia symptoms include, difficulty focusing on tasks, impulse control problems, trouble speaking clearly and difficult learning new things.
Much like my post on PTSD, Dementia is too large a subject to cover in one post. Keep in mind that the patient will have good days and bad days, they might not recognise your voice on the phone yet recognise your face so the patient will know who you are when they see you. A Dementia patient might have issues with short term memory yet have an intact long- term memory. Most importantly the patient is still the person they were before Dementia developed, do not treat the patient as an invalid, treat them the same as you would have done before and do not try to make them remember anything. When my Nan was still alive, I would usually have the same conversation with her five times in a ten- minute phone call simply because for my Nan it was the first time, she asked me that question. For more information click on the links below.