Dementia is an umbrella term
The term Dementia is often used to describe many different symptoms associated with changes in brain function. These symptoms might include, memory loss, difficulty completing tasks and even challenges with language. Receiving a diagnosis of dementia from a GP, or other health professional, can carry with it a whole host of emotions- not least, a feeling of loss of control. This can be compounded by the fact that people living with dementia will often experience widely differing symptoms, depending on the type of dementia they have. Whilst there is little absolute certainty, due to the individuality of each experience, understanding the different types of dementia, and how they occur, can help to reduce some of the anxiety surrounding a future that includes a dementia diagnosis.
Dementia is caused by a number of different conditions. Knowing the root cause is helpful to understanding how the dementia is likely to progress and what signs and symptoms might be associated with that journey. Symptoms of dementia can vary widely in the early stages but sometimes become more predictable as the dementia advances.
This is the most common cause of dementia and in all likelihood, you will have heard of it. With Alzheimer’s disease, an abnormal protein damages the brain cells and stops chemical connections firing between the cells. This results in a loss of brain cells and ultimately develops into symptoms such as memory loss, problems with decision making and difficulty with finding the right words.
Our brain cells rely on a ready supply of oxygen, carried to them by our blood vessels. If these blood vessels become smaller, or blocked altogether, the cells can become damaged. Vascular dementia can occur gradually, after a series of small strokes, or can happen suddenly, after a large stroke. During a stroke, the blood, carrying necessary oxygen, is prevented from reaching the brain for a time. Whilst having a stroke or TIAs increases the risk, not everyone will actually develop vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia can also be caused by a disease that affects the small blood vessels inside the brain, this is known as subcortical vascular dementia.
The symptoms associated with vascular dementia can look like Alzheimer’s disease. Planning, quick thinking, problem solving, and confusion may affect people living with vascular dementia. It is also possible to have what is known as, mixed dementia, which means more than one type of dementia. For example, it’s common to have both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
This type of dementia affects around 11,000 people in the UK and is therefore classed as a rare form of the condition. With this kind of dementia, proteins damage the front and side parts of the brain’s structure, resulting in changes to personality and behaviour. A shortened attention span and difficulty communicating verbally can affect those living with fronto-temporal dementia.
Dementia with Lewy bodies
This too is a less common form of dementia, affecting about 25,000 people in the UK and is closely related to Parkinson’s disease. As a result, as well as some of the more typical signs of dementia, people living with this form of dementia may have trouble with movement, fainting and sometimes hallucinations.
Other types of dementia
Roughly 23,000 people in the UK are living with much rarer forms of dementia. Some root causes are alcohol related and worsen with continued alcohol consumption. Others can be caused by hormone and vitamin deficiencies, which can be treated. Although this is extremely uncommon, as most dementias are progressive. Some more widely recognised forms of these less common causes of dementia are Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and Huntington’s disease.
Whilst finding out about the different types of dementia is likely the start of your journey, it is important to remember that you’re not alone. 900,000 people in the UK today, as well as their families and friends, are living with dementia. At Sage House, we understand that each journey is unique to that family. We believe that by equipping you with the facts about dementia, in non-medical speak, we can help you to feel confident and informed about what might be the road ahead. Our Wayfinding team are on hand to support you with providing more information on understanding dementia, planning for the future, or to simply chat about living well with a dementia diagnosis.
Our Wayfinders can offer free advice and guidance for your whole dementia journey, even from before you have a formal diagnosis. The Wayfinders can also sign post to other services we work with to provide holistic, person-centred support.
If you have concerns about your loved one's memory, you can contact our Wayfinders on 01243 888691. They can support you and your loved ones for your whole journey with dementia, from pre-diagnosis to end of life care.