understanding dementia causes, types and diagnosis

December 13, 2021

Roughly five million Americans are living with dementia. It’s a condition that’s common with age, but it’s not considered a normal part of the aging process.

What is Dementia?

It’s a term that describes a person’s loss of cognitive function, including thinking, decision-making and memory recall. This condition interferes with daily living and can affect your ability to complete basic tasks such as bathing, dressing, eating and maintaining your household.

The exact cause of dementia is unknown, but any factor that affects your brain’s health can contribute to its development and progression. Neurodegenerative disorders like Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease can cause irreversible damage to the brain’s neurons, increasing your risk for dementia. Poor lifestyle choices like alcohol and drug abuse are also considered risk factors.

Symptoms of Dementia

Early signs of dementia vary, but the most common indicators include:

  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Confusion
  • Trouble comprehending and expressing thoughts
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Repetitive speech or questions
  • Frequent wandering or getting lost in familiar places
  • Hallucinations, delusions or paranoia
  • Apathy
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and hobbies
  • Trouble with money management
  • Poor hygiene
  • Issues with balance or movement control

Alzheimer’s Disease

This condition is the most common type of dementia. Approximately 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. It’s common in older adults and is characterized by neuron tangles and a buildup of proteins in the brain called amyloid plaques.

Age, genetics and a family history of Alzheimer’s are the most common risk factors. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s include difficulty remembering newly learned information, disorientation, mood swings and problems with speaking and swallowing.

Vascular Dementia

This type of dementia is the second most common form of the disease. It’s caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain and damage to the brain’s blood vessels. People who’ve had strokes are often at an increased risk for vascular dementia.

Symptoms of vascular dementia can go unnoticed or get misdiagnosed as another type of dementia. Signs include confusion, difficulty concentrating, agitation, imbalance and incontinence.

Lewy Body Dementia

Protein deposits, or Lewy bodies, develop on nerve cells in the regions of the brain associated with thinking, memory and movement. That buildup disrupts communication between neurons and can cause memory loss and disorientation.

People with Lewy body dementia often have amyloid plaques and neuron tangles similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms of Lewy body dementia include trouble sleeping, visual hallucinations, poor attention span, depression and apathy.

Frontotemporal Dementia

This rare form of dementia affects the parts of the brain responsible for language and behavior. It usually occurs in younger people and has been known to develop in those as young as 45. It’s believed to be caused by certain gene mutations and an abnormal form of tau proteins that create neurofibrillary tangles.

Behavioral symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include compulsiveness, apathy, inappropriate actions and a lack of inhibition. A person with this type of dementia may also experience problems speaking, recalling language and socializing.

Mixed Dementia

This is a combination of two or more types of dementia. It commonly occurs when both brain changes and vascular conditions are present. Symptoms of mixed dementia vary depending on the individual. Some people may present behavioral changes first, while other experience memory loss.

Diagnosing Dementia

Evaluating a person’s cognitive decline involves a medical assessment and neurological tests. Your doctor will review your family and medical history to rule out any treatable underlying factors.

They will also record your dementia-related symptoms’ type, severity and frequency.

Diagnosis may also include some of the following procedures:

  • Cognitive assessments
  • Brain scans
  • Genetic testing
  • Psychiatric evaluations
  • Blood tests

Embassy Healthcare offers comprehensive dementia assessments to determine your cognitive impairment type and severity. Call 216-378-2050 or contact us online to learn about our dedicated dementia care communities.