Dementia is not a single disease but a collective term for various neurodegenerative conditions. There are four main types of dementia: Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, and Frontotemporal Dementia. These are the most common; however there are over 200 subtypes of dementia, with each type impacting areas of the brain that govern the memory, as well as the ability to think and speak. In this blog we will delve into the causes and symptoms of the four main types of dementia, and provide insights into how you can provide effective, person-centred care.
1. Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease is the most common of the four main types of dementia, accounting for around 60-80% of all cases. It primarily affects memory and cognitive function.
The exact cause of Alzheimer's remains unknown, but it involves the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain. Alzheimer's Disease typically destroys neurons, and their connections to parts of the brain involved in memory. It later affects areas in the cerebral cortex responsible for language, reasoning, and social behaviour.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Early symptoms of this type of dementia include:
- memory loss
- an inability to find the right words
- trouble with familiar tasks.
As the disease progresses, individuals may have difficulty with language and reasoning.
Compassionate care and support are essential for those with Alzheimer's.
2. Vascular Dementia
Vascular Dementia is the second most common type of dementia, accounting for 10-20% of cases.
Vascular Dementia is often caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, typically from a stroke or other vascular conditions.
A typical reason for reduced blood flow is atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up inside the arteries, narrowing them and reducing blood flow. This occurs when high cholesterol levels, together with inflammation in the arteries of the brain, cause cholesterol to build up as a thick, waxy plaque that can narrow or block blood flow in the arteries.
Preventing vascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can reduce the risk of vascular dementia.
Symptoms of this type of dementia can vary widely, depending on the affected areas of the brain, but may include:
- difficulty with planning and organising
- mood swings
3. Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy Body Dementia is the third most common type of dementia and shares some similarities with both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease.
Lewy Body Dementia is caused by the presence of abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies in the brain. These develop in the nerve cells inside the parts of the brain that control thinking, memory, and movement.
Symptoms of this type of dementia include:
- executive difficulties, e.g., struggling to organise or plan
- motor difficulties, e.g., struggling to walk or stand
- loss in awareness of environment
- hallucinations of animals and children.
Caregivers must be patient and adaptable in providing care.
4. Frontotemporal Dementia
Frontotemporal dementia is an umbrella term for a group of brain disorders that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It is the rarest of the four main types of dementia, but for those affected it is highly impactful.
Frontotemporal Dementia is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These lobes are generally associated with personality, behaviour and language. In frontotemporal dementia, portions of these lobes shrink.
This type of dementia is associated with personality changes, social disinhibition, and language problems.
Early symptoms, depending on which side of the brain is affected, include:
- inability to understand words (left side), and
- inability to control behaviour and regulate emotion (right side)
Unlike Alzheimer's, memory remains relatively intact in the early stages.
Care for individuals with Frontotemporal Dementia should be tailored to their unique behavioural and emotional needs.
Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, and Frontotemporal Dementia all have distinct causes and symptoms, so they impact people in different ways. But however, the symptoms present themselves, dementia has a profound impact on individuals and their families. Worldwide, over 50 million people are living with dementia, and this number is expected to triple by 2050.
That’s why person-centred dementia care is so important. The gold standard for supporting individuals living with these conditions, person-centred care involves understanding the individual's unique history, preferences, and needs, and tailoring care accordingly.
Compassion, patience, and communication are fundamental in providing the best care for someone with dementia. Creating a safe, familiar environment and engaging in meaningful activities can significantly improve the quality of life for both the individual and their caregivers, whether they are cared for in a residential home or in their own home.
As a care provider who specialise in expert dementia care, B&M recognises the importance of supporting families dealing with dementia. We offer educational Discovery Events, respite care, and memory cafes to help caregivers provide the best care possible for their loved ones.
By embracing person-centred care and seeking support from organisations like B&M Care, families can navigate the challenges of dementia with empathy and resilience.At B&M, all our caregivers have specialist training in the four main types of dementia. Contact your local B&M Care home if you would like to know more about our community support events, or our specialist residential dementia care.