Dementia is not a single disease but a collection of symptoms. There are different kinds of dementia that occur caused by different changes in the brain.
Different Types of Dementia
Alzhemer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It is caused by the build-up of certain kinds of proteins in and around brain cells. It has an insidious (slow) onset and is a progressive disease whereby symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. AD is irreversible, slowly impairs memory and thinking skills, and may eventually affect the ability to carry out simple tasks such as eating. Currently, there is no cure for this disease but treatment can help manage symptoms of AD.
Vascular dementia is a type of dementia that is caused by a disease or injury to blood vessels in the brain, mostly in the form of strokes. The onset of this kind of dementia may be abrupt, and symptoms depend on the location and impact of the stroke. A person with vascular dementia may also show evidence of silent strokes on brain scans. While vascular dementia is not reversible, it is important to treat its risk factors. Controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, and smoking may slow the disease’s progression and reduce stroke recurrence.
Lewy body dementia is a type of dementia that occurs when there is an abnormal build-up of structures called Lewy bodies inside brain cells. This causes changes in movement, thinking and behaviour. Symptoms of LBD can sometimes also happen due to Parkinson’s disease – these symptoms include slowness, tremors, rigid muscles and vivid visual hallucinations. Other prominent symptoms include problems with attention, organisation, problem solving, and planning. People with LBD have higher risks for falls in view of their increased rigidity, instability and slow gait.1
Fronto-temporal dementia is a type of dementia that is characterised by marked personality changes and in some cases, language difficulties. It is caused by progressive damage to the frontal and/or temporal regions of the brain. FTD can lead to reduced intellectual abilities and changes in personality, emotion and behaviour, which are related to the function of the brain’s frontal lobe. FTD can also cause difficulty in recognising objects, understanding, or language expression, which are related to the function of the brain’s temporal lobes.
Due to these symptoms, FTD can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or a psychiatric disorder like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia. There is no treatment or cure yet but medications and lifestyle changes can help to relieve the symptoms. Most people affected by FTD are younger, between 40-70 years of age.
Alcohol-related dementia is a cognitive disorder caused by alcohol-related brain damage. Some parts of the brain may be damaged through vitamin deficiencies, especially severe vitamin B-1 deficiency, since alcohol prevents this vitamin’s absorption and use. A risk factor for alcohol-related dementia is regular drinking of large volumes of alcohol.2
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- Dementia Australia. (n.d.). Lewy Body Disease. https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/types-of-dementia/lewy-body-disease
- Dementia Australia. (n.d.). Alcohol related dementia. https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/types-of-dementia/alcohol-related-dementia