B&M carer and resident reading a book

The Four Main Types of Dementia

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
  • confusion
  • 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.

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:

  • confusion
  • difficulty with planning and organising
  • mood swings

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.

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.

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.