The term ‘Dementia’ does not refer to one single disease but rather a number of illnesses that fall under the same blanket term, similar to the term ‘heart disease’. It covers a wide variety of certain medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Disorders that are categorized under the blanket term dementia are caused by abnormal differences and changes that occur in the brain. These kinds of changes result in a decline in thinking skills, which are also called cognitive abilities. This decline can be so severe that daily life can be impaired, and functioning independently becomes impossible. Feelings, behaviors, and relationships are affected as well.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the various types of dementia, how you can recognize and diagnose them, and how you can care for a friend or family member who suffers from dementia.

Dementia – What is it, Exactly?

As we mentioned before, dementia does not refer to a singular illness but to a number of illnesses with similar symptoms. It is a symptom, generally of a progressive or chronic nature, in which the cognitive function of the affected person deteriorates beyond what is usually expected from regular aging.

It affects thinking, memory, comprehension, orientation, learning capacity, calculation, judgment, and language, but has no effect on consciousness. The impairment of the affected person’s cognitive function is often accompanied, and sometimes even preceded, by a decline in emotional control, motivation, or social behavior.

Dementia can occur as a result of a number of injuries and diseases that secondarily or primarily affect the brain, such as a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease. It is one of the most significant causes of dependency and disability amongst elderly folks around the world.

Not only is it overwhelming for the person suffering from dementia, but also for their families and caregivers. There is a general lack of understanding and awareness of the illness, which results in stigmatization and blockades to diagnoses and care. The impact that dementia has on the afflicted, their family, friends, carers, and society at large can be psychological, physical, economic, and social.

Symptoms and Signs

Dementia has different effects on each individual, depending on the person’s personality before they became ill and the impact that dementia has on them. It’s easiest to understand the symptoms and signs of dementia by looking at them in three separate stages, namely the early stage, middle stage, and late stage.

Early Stage

The early stage of dementia is the one that is most commonly overlooked since the onset is gradual. Common early-stage dementia symptoms include losing track of time, general forgetfulness, and getting lost in places that were once familiar. It can be easy to brush these symptoms aside, but noticing them early is extremely beneficial to the dementia patient and their caregivers.

Middle Stage

When dementia progresses to the middle stage, it becomes easier to identify its symptoms and signs, as they become clearer and more restricting to the patient. This stage includes symptoms like becoming lost at home, becoming forgetful of people’s names and recent events, needing help with personal care, finding communication increasingly difficult, and experiencing changes in behavior, including repeated questioning and wandering.

Late Stage

The late stage of dementia is one of almost complete inactivity and dependence. Disturbances in memory are at their most severe, and the physical symptoms and signs become more obvious. This stage’s symptoms include finding it difficult to recognize friends and family, being unaware of the time and place, finding it difficult to walk, needing more and more assisted self-care, and experiencing extreme behavioral changes, including aggression.

Different Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s Disease

This is the most common form of dementia, and between 60% and 80% of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Early signs of Alzheimer’s include forgetting names and recent events, depression, and a depressed mood. However, it should be noticed that depression is not a part of Alzheimer’s disease.

Depression is a separate disorder that requires special treatment. Depressed older adults are occasionally misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. Brain cell death is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, and as it progresses, those suffering tend to experience mood changes and confusion, and might also have trouble walking and speaking.

Older adults are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and about 5% of Alzheimer’s cases are early-onset, occurring in people in their 40s and 50s.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Also called Lewy body dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies occurs as a result of protein deposits in nerve cells. This causes an interruption of chemical messages in the brain, which causes disorientation and memory loss.

People who suffer from this type of dementia will often also experience visual hallucinations, have trouble falling asleep at night, or unexpectedly fall asleep during the day. They also might get disoriented, become lost, and may even faint. Lewy body dementia shares a number of symptoms with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Many people have trouble walking, develop trembling in the hands, and feel weak.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. It can occur with age, and can also be related to stroke or atherosclerotic disease. 

Vascular dementia symptoms can appear either suddenly or gradually, depending on how it is caused. Disorientation and confusion are common signs early on, and in the later stages, those with vascular dementia might also have trouble concentrating for extended periods or seeing tasks through. It can also cause hallucinations and cause vision problems.

Parkinson’s Disease

It is common for many people with advanced Parkinson’s disease to develop dementia. The early signs of this form of dementia involve problems with judgment and reasoning. For instance, someone with dementia resulting from Parkinson’s disease may experience difficulty remembering how to carry out simple daily taste or understand visual information.

They might also have frightening and confusing hallucinations, and this kind of dementia often causes the affected to become irritable. As the disease progresses, many people become paranoid or depressed. Others experience difficulty speaking, get lost during a conversation, and might forget words.

Creutzfeldt – Jakob Disease

CJD, or Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, is one of the rarest types of dementia. Only one in one million people are diagnosed with it annually, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It advances exceptionally quickly, and people with it will often perish within a year of being diagnosed with it.

CJD symptoms are similar to other types of dementia. Some people will experience depression, while others will become irritable and agitated. Memory loss and confusion are also common, and the illness affects the body as well, causing muscle stiffness and twitching.

Caring for Someone with Dementia

There are many challenges that come with caring for a loved one with dementia. People with dementia are suffering from a progressing brain disorder that makes it very difficult for them to remember things, communicate with others, think clearly, and take care of themselves. Dementia also causes changes in the affected person’s behavior, personality, and mood swings.

Communicating with Someone with Dementia

Not many people know how to communicate properly with someone suffering from dementia, and it’s something that not many people are taught. But it is something that can be learned. Improving your communication skills will make caring for a loved one with dementia much easier and less stressful, and will also likely improve the relationship you have with your loved ones.

Set a positive interaction mood

Your body language and attitude communicate your thoughts and feelings more than your words do. It helps establish a more positive atmosphere by talking with your loved one respectfully and pleasantly, without talking down to them.

Make sure that you are expressing with your face, physical touch, and tone of voice so that your message and feelings of affection are conveyed as clearly as possible.

Get your loved one’s attention

Try to limit the noises and distractions around you and your loved one by turning the TV or radio off, shutting the door and closing the curtains, or moving to a quieter room. Before you speak, make sure that you have their full attention, identify yourself by name and relation to them, and address them by name.

It also helps to use touch cues that are nonverbal to keep them focused, and if they are sitting down, make sure that you lower yourself to maintain eye contact.

Ask questions that have simple answers

Make sure that you don’t ask more than one question at a time. Yes or no questions are the most effective. Try to avoid asking open-ended questions, as those who have dementia will have trouble formulating answers to them, which leads to frustration.

If they do not understand the question at first, try to reword it more simply. Try to replace pronouns with the name of people and places wherever possible, and avoid abbreviations.

Dealing with Behavioral Changes

One of the biggest challenges that come with caring for someone with dementia is the changes in behavior that they experience. It helps to be flexible, creative, patient, and compassionate, and you should also never take anything personally, and maintain a good sense of humor. 

Know that you can’t change the person that you are caring for. They are suffering from a brain disorder, which has fundamentally changed who they are, and when you try to control their behavior, you will not find any success.

It is important to try to accommodate their behavior rather than trying to control it. For instance, if they insist on sleeping on the floor, put a mattress down for them so that they’re more comfortable.

You should also remember that, while you can’t change their behavior, you can always change yours, and the environment around you and your loved one. Changing your behavior will often result in changes in the behavior of your loved one.