When it comes to dementia, the cause generally determines the type. Some dementia-like conditions may be reversible – such as those caused by medication, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or trauma – but true dementias are permanent and/or progressive. Understanding the distinct kinds and causes can be helpful in understanding the condition of a particular patient – particularly if that patient is a loved one.
Alzheimer’s is the most frequently found cause of progressive dementia in those age 65 and up. Although the cause of Alzheimer’s disease remains unknown, distinctive plaques and tangles are found in the brains of patients who have Alzheimer’s. The plaques are actually clumps of beta-amyloid protein, and the tangles are created from tau protein. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, some treatments may slow the progress of this neurodegenerative disease.
Vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia, is the result of damage to the blood vessels that supply your brain. This type of dementia can be the result of a stroke or other blood vessel problem the prevents an adequate amount of blood flow to the brain, damaging and killing the neurons. Changes in memory and thinking skills often occur suddenly following a stroke or other condition that blocks major blood vessels to the brain.
Lewy Body Dementia
Another of the more common types of dementia, this type is thought to be associated with the clumps of protein known as Lewy bodies – abnormal deposits of alpha-synuclein protein within nerve cells – that are found in people with this progressive brain disorder. While these same clumps are also present in dementia patients with Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia is considered to be a separate condition, as Parkinson’s itself does not present with dementia or a decline in mental abilities. Lewy body dementia may also include symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as tremors, slowed movement, and rigid muscles.
Frontotemporal dementias are a group of rare, related conditions caused by the breakdown, or degeneration, of the nerve cells in specific parts of the brain – the areas associated with behavior, personality, emotion, decision-making, and language. As with many other dementias, the specific cause of this type of dementia isn’t known.
Generally diagnosed after death, mixed dementia is a combination of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Research is being conducted to learn more about the specific symptoms and possible treatments for mixed dementia.
Traumatic brain injury, particularly repetitive head trauma such as that experienced by many soldiers, football players, or boxers, can also result in dementia. Depending on the part of the brain injured, dementia signs and symptoms, such as memory loss, depression, explosiveness, clumsy movement, and difficult speech, as well as the slowed movement, rigidity, and tremors known as Parkinsonism may result. These symptoms often do not begin until long after the trauma itself was experienced.
Research into the causes and risk factors for developing all types of dementia is ongoing. Regardless of the type, if a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, be sure to reach out for the support you need. If you are considering in-home care services or need a break from caretaking duties, reach out to the caring staff at Specialty Care Services. We can help.