If you’ve cared for someone living with dementia, you know how difficult and frightening this diagnosis is. Most people believe dementia is a specific medical condition. In fact, it is a general term which refers to the impaired ability to remember, think, make decisions, or otherwise manage everyday life.
What Are the Most Common Types of Dementia?
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, and it makes up 60 to 80 percent of cases. Alzheimer’s causes specific changes in the brain. In the earlier stages of the disease, individuals often have trouble remembering recent events, such as a conversation that occurred just moments prior. As the disease progresses, they may have difficult remembering more distant memories and experience difficulties with walking, talking, or caring for themselves.
Other less common forms include:
- Lewy body dementia. In addition to memory loss, people suffering from Lewy body dementia may have movement or balance problems like stiffness or trembling. Many people also experience changes in alertness including daytime sleepiness, confusion or staring spells. They may also have trouble sleeping at night or may experience visual hallucinations.
- Fronto-temporal dementia. This type of dementia most often leads to changes in personality and behavior because of the part of the brain it affects. People with this condition may embarrass themselves or behave inappropriately. For instance, a previously cautious person may make offensive comments and neglect responsibilities at home or work. There may also be problems with language skills like speaking or understanding.
In individuals aged 80 and older, it is also possible for more than one type of dementia to present in the brain. This condition is called mixed dementia. Doctors may find it difficult to diagnose multiple forms of dementia since symptoms from one form may present while others do not.
It’s also important to note that people suffering from dementia may have a reversible underlying cause that is temporarily affecting their brain. This could include a side effect of medication, increased pressure to the brain, a vitamin deficiency and even a thyroid hormone imbalance.
What Should I Do If I Suspect Dementia?
In general, people with dementia have problems with their memory, attention, general communication, and reasoning skills. They may also have trouble with judgment and general problem-solving. Dementia does NOT occur in all aged adults and symptoms should not be ignored. Some warning signs you may notice in your loved one may include:
- Getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
- Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
- Forgetting the name of a close family member or friend
- Forgetting old memories
- Not being able to complete tasks independently
If you start to notice these signs, you should contact your loved one’s primary care doctor immediately and schedule a visit. Most likely, during that visit they will refer you to a Memory Care Specialist or a Neurologist who can screen your loved one and perform appropriate diagnostic work.
Lastly, remember that sadly, dementia is a common disease that affects millions of older adults and their families nationwide. You are not in this alone – you can still find ways to connect to and support your loved one.