It’s Not Just Alzheimers – Understanding the 5 Most Common Types of Dementia

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By Polly LoganSeptember 29th, 2021

It’s Not Just Alzheimers – Understanding the 5 Most Common Types of Dementia

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By Polly Logan
Did you know there are over 100+ different types and forms of dementia? Most people know about Alzheimers disease, but how much do you know about the other most common forms of dementia?

These dementias do have several things in common: they are all chronic, progressive, terminal, and cause deterioration of at least two parts of the brain. Yet, they have important differences. Do you know what they are? Read below to find out.
1. Alzheimers Disease
An image of hands holding a purple ribbon symbolizing AlzheimersAlzheimers disease is the most common form of dementia, and is by far the most well-known. Most cases of Alzheimers are diagnosed later in life. Yet, approximately 5% of cases are diagnosed before the age of 65, which is known as Early-onset or Younger Onset Alzheimers. There are also other forms of Alzheimers that are even less common.

Alzheimers results in the deterioration of brain cells due to the accumulation of abnormal proteins. Early symptoms include difficulty with short-term memory, word-finding, complicated unfamiliar tasks, and interpreting the meaning behind words. Old memories, familiar patterns and tasks, muscle motor abilities, and emotional memories are typically preserved until later in the illness, and can be an important source of comfort and connection.
2. Vascular Dementia
An image showing the inside of a blood vessel with red blood cellsThe second most common form of dementia is Vascular Dementia. Vascular dementia is caused by disease of the small blood vessels of the brain, which causes small strokes and areas of bleeding that damage brain cells. Hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking are the main risk factors for vascular dementia.

One of the hallmarks of this form of dementia is that progression is very unpredictable – an individual can seem to be cognitively sound, only to experience significant confusion later that day. Using observational clues to assess the person’s status before approaching can be extremely helpful.
3. Mixed Dementia
An image of different mixed paint colorsUp until a few years ago, Mixed Dementia was not well-recognized, but it is now thought to be the third most common form of dementia. Mixed dementia is when more than one type or form of dementia is present. Most commonly this involves a combination of Alzheimers and vascular dementia, but it can involve other dementias instead. With a wide variety of symptoms, mixed dementia can be tricky to diagnose.

Recent research is indicating that mixed dementia is significant because the combination of more than one dementia may result in a faster, more dramatic progression of the disease. If the symptoms do not seem to fit any dementia in particular, you may wish to ask about the possibility of mixed dementia.
4. Dementia with Lewy Bodies
An image of a clipboard with the words "Diagnosis: Lewy Body Dementia"Dementia with Lewy Bodies, also known as Lewy Body Dementia, is the third most common form of dementia. In this type, a type of protein known as Lewy bodies accumulate in the brain cells and disrupt their function.

Dementia with Lewy bodies has some common symptoms that are less commonly seen in other dementias, including vivid hallucinations, delusional thinking, intention tremors, sleep disturbances, and declining motor skills. Memory function may not be significantly affected early in the disease and can be used as a form of connection.
5. Frontotemporal Dementia
An drawing of a part of a brain with a hand pointing toward the frontal lobeThe fifth most common form is Frontotemporal Dementia, which includes many different subtypes. In Frontotemporal Dementia, the brain cells in the frontal and/or temporal regions of the brain deteriorate due to an abnormal protein accumulation.

Depending on the subtype, symptoms can include changes in behavior or personality, lack of impulse control, impaired judgment, communication challenges, and a decrease in cognitive and executive functioning.  As in some other forms of dementia, memory is often not significantly affected in the early stages.
Conclusion
An older African-American lady and her daughter looking out the window togetherThere are many more types and forms of dementia. Click here to view a document we’ve created featuring some of the more common types.

Why does the type of dementia matter? Why is it important to try to receive an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible? One reason is that certain types of dementia, such as Dementia with Lewy Bodies, can cause severe reactions to certain medications. Additionally, each form of dementia has a different progression and different symptoms. Therefore, knowing the type of dementia can help you better plan for the future and give you the opportunity to provide the best possible care and support.


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If you would like to know more about the different types of dementia, try these recorded webinars with dementia care expert Teepa Snow:
Or view the entire 12-part series of
Understanding Different Dementias by clicking here.

2 Comments on “It’s Not Just Alzheimers – Understanding the 5 Most Common Types of Dementia”

  1. My husbands neurologist put him on aricept since 2018 without ever telling me what type of dementia
    or altzheimers he has…since then my husband has
    severely declined without any further help from dr.
    He was unable to do MRI because was too agitated
    constantly moving was given 1mg Ativan did not
    help….any suggestions or help advice?

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