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What Is Dementia & Types Of Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms that occur when brain cells stop functioning properly. The symptoms of dementia vary from person to person, but usually involve changes significant enough to affect a person’s ability to engage in Day-to-day activity under the following three domains:

- Cognition: (memory, thinking, language)
- Behaviour (mood, personality, social skills)
-Physical functioning (movement, visual field changes, coordination, balance, etc)

The five most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Frontotemporal Dementia and Mixed Dementia. Regardless of which type is diagnosed and which parts of the brain are affected, each person tends to experience dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia can affect a person at any age but it is more commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65. A person who develops dementia before the age of 65 is said to have Young Onset Dementia. There are nearly 24,000 people over the age of 65 in the Ottawa and Renfrew region who are living with dementia and in the next decade it will double (LHIN dementia capacity planning report). Of the people living with dementia, 3-5% are of younger onset. 

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Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia and is the most commonly researched. It is characterized by two principal hallmarks: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Amyloid plaques are deposits outside the brain cells that have a toxic effect. 

Neurofibrillary tangles clump together inside the cells and lead to brain cell dysfunction. The earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is usually short-term memory loss. 

This is often followed by reading problems, poor object recognition, and poor sense of direction. It is now believed that more than 50% of people with Alzheimer’s have coexisting dementias. 

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease click here

Vascular Dementia

Vascular Dementia is the second most common cause of dementia and often coexists with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Vascular Dementia can occur following a stroke when blood flow is cut off from a part of the brain. This leads to brain cells being deprived of oxygen. Strokes can have a cumulative effect on brain functioning. The symptoms vary from person to person because the symptoms depend on the specific areas of the brain that are damaged. The symptoms also vary according to the extent of the damage (small or large stroke).

To learn more about Vascular Dementia click here

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies is a complex progressive disease. 

It usually presents with symptoms that are commonly seen in Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. The hallmark of Dementia with Lewy Bodies is deposits inside the cell (called alpha-synuclein neuronal inclusions) that are accompanied by neurodegeneration (degeneration of the building blocks of the brain). The main symptoms are memory loss, disorientation, visual hallucinations and sleep issues.

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Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal Dementia is a term for a group of rare disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. 

Frontotemporal Dementia tends to occur at a younger age than other types of dementia. A higher amount (compared to other types of dementia) of Frontotemporal Dementia is familial, meaning that it is associated with a mutation of a gene that can be passed from parent to child. Even then, only 10% of cases involve a different version of a gene causing the disease.  Frontotemporal Dementia also tends to progress more rapidly than other types of dementia. The most common symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia are the loss of language skills, difficulty with concentration and the inability to control impulses.

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Mixed Dementia

Mixed Dementia is the coexistence of multiple types of dementia at the same time.

It is believed that the pairing of two types of dementia may have a considerable impact on the brain, greater than either type by itself. Mixed Dementia is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms may vary greatly according to which types of dementias are combined. It is now believed that over 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease have a coexisting dementia and that, most commonly, that second type of dementia is Vascular Dementia.

To learn more about Mixed Dementia click here

Young Onset Dementia

When dementia symptoms occur in people in their 30s, 40s or 50s, it is known as Young Onset Dementia or Early-Onset Dementia (3-5% of all dementias are young onset CIHI report 2018). 

Since the occurrence is much less common than other types of dementia the process of diagnosis may be more complex than the process for other types of dementia as the individual may present as physically healthy and socially engaged. Young Onset Dementia is typically associated with a familial link (a genetic link). The needs of a person with Young Onset Dementia can be very different from those of a person with other types of dementia because the person affected by the disease is younger; he or she may be working, providing for the family, and actively raising children. 

To learn more about Young Onset Dementia click here

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