What Is Dementia? Types, Symptoms, and Management

Dementia is defined by the National Institute of Health as: the loss of cognitive functioning (thinking, remembering, reasoning and behavioral abilities) to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. These functions can include: memory, language skills, visual perception, problem solving, self-management, the ability to focus or pay attention, and the ability to control emotion and impulse.

What are the Different Types of Dementia?

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Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions which cause changes and damage to the brain. Neurodegenerative disorders result in a progressive and irreversible loss of neurons and brain functioning. Currently, there are no cures for these types of disorders

AD is the most commonly heard of diagnosis. Although a true cause it not currently known, brains of people with AD are found to have small abnormalities. The so-called, amyloid plaques and tau tangles, formed in the brain and found in specific locations throughout, are two distinguishing hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease Dementia.

Symptoms: AD begins slowly, it first involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. Over time, symptoms get worse. People may not recognize family members or have trouble speaking, reading or writing. They may forget how to brush their teeth or comb their hair. Later on, they may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Eventually, they need total care.

Also known as FTD, frontotemporal degeneration or Pick’s disease, is the most common dementia diagnosed before age 60. FTD is actually a group of diseases affecting the same brain regions. These include behavioral variant FTD, primary progressive aphasia (PPA), corticobasal degeneration, progressive supranuclear palsy, and FTD/ALS.

Symptoms: FTD brings progressive changes to personality, language, decision making, behavior, disinhibitions, impulsivity, impaired financial decision making, and language problems.

Lewy body dementia is a general term and includes both Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD) (in which Parkinson’s disease is first diagnosed but a year or more later includes dementia) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) (which starts with dementia and is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease, but may include Parkinson-like symptoms at the time of diagnosis or later).

Symptoms: LBD includes dementia, visual hallucinations and frequent variations in cognitive ability, attention or alertness. There are also changes in walking or movement, as well as a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams. LBD patients may also have a severe sensitivity to medications prescribed for hallucinations.

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Other types of progressive brain disease include:

These are disorders that affect the blood circulation in your brain. Proper control of blood pressure or vascular issues improves outcomes with this type of dementia.

Symptoms: Impaired judgment, decreased apathy, urinary changes, changes or difficulty with motor skills which may affect balance.

NPH is caused by an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles (cavities or spaces) of the brain. When people have NPH, they have an excess of cerebrospinal fluid because their bodies cannot properly drain and absorb the fluid, but the pressure in their brain remains normal.

Shunt surgery, which delivers cerebrospinal fluid from the head to the abdomen or heart, may help these symptoms.

Symptoms:This condition can cause walking problems including difficulty picking up your feet, shuffling, freezing, problems with bladder control trouble paying attention, short memory loss and changes in mood.

How can a Life Care Manager help?

It is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis of what type of dementia you have to maximize benefits from treatment and understand more about prognosis and symptoms. Our staff at Holistic Aging are very familiar with all the types of dementia and will frequently discussing our findings with the doctor to get the correct diagnosis.

Although at present there’s no cure for the varying types of dementia, there are ways you can slow it down and maintain mental function if it’s diagnosed in the early stages.

A Life Care Manager, licensed as a professional, can help people with dementia:

  • get the correct diagnosis
  • develop a support system to prepare and plan for the future
  • encourage the person with dementia to take an active role in their condition
  • customize a plan of care to meet the individual’s needs. It’s important to remember that everyone experiences dementia and its progression in their own way.
  • offer suggestions to allow the person with dementia to be able to lead active and fulfilled lives
  • coach the family and care providers on ways to communicate with people with dementia
  • assure a safe environment
  • improve the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease
  • cope with changes in behavior
  • offer recommendations when driving becomes a concern
  • monitor money management and financial safety
  • familiar with methods to recommend when the person will not accept help

Life Care Managers are familiar with strategies and resources to ensure that proper care is provided whether in the home or facility setting. As a Life Care Manager, our goals are to ensure that a patient may function at the highest level of independence, in the least restrictive living environment as long as possible, while recognizing changes and modifications to the plan of may need to be made along the way.

References

What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis. (2017, December 31). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-dementia-symptoms-types-and-diagnosis.

Written by:
Barbara Kolonay, RN BSN MS and
Jennifer Ilconich, BS MA CCC-SLP

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