What Causes the Different Types of Dementia?

What Causes the Different Types of Dementia?

Mike's Blog

When someone is diagnosed with dementia, their head fills with lots of questions, such as:

  • How did I get it?
  • What type of dementia do I have?
  • What’s my outlook as the dementia progresses?
  • Is there a cure?

As a Senior Living Advisor (Mike McClernon, 516-254-9481), I'm often asked what life is like for a resident of a specialized Dementia Unit or Community. As you probably know, this type of care, often called Memory Care, is Assisted Living for people with cognitive problems.

All the support for Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) like dressing, showering, and medication management are available to both residents of Assisted and Memory Care alike. In addition to this physical care, the Memory Care process includes specialized and proven ways to communicate with the Dementia residents, removing or minimizing frustrations and giving them a chance for a happy, calm time. The activities, too, are designed so that the person with dementia can enjoy them and be successful in their interactions with staff, other residents, and especially family.

Families also ask how their elderly loved ones may have developed dementia in the first place. Let's look at what dementia is and the most likely causes of each type.

What is Dementia

Contrary to popular belief, dementia isn't so much a disease as it is a group of symptoms that relate to a loss of memory and other cognitive skills. It's caused by damage to or a loss of nerve cells and how they connect to the brain.

Life in a Memory Care unit of a community is similar for everyone, regardless of the underlying cause of the dementia. It's important to understand the underlying cause of the cognitive problem, too. Understanding the specific cause can often give the family a general sense of the timeline for the overall course of the rest of the person's life.

How does Dementia initially present?

Families often see the signs before the afflicted person does. Markers of dementia include losing cognitive skills such as memory, judgment, attention, mood stability, communication, decision-making, and trouble completing routine tasks associated with daily living such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, and more.

Difficulties functioning at work, in relationships, and in social activities can also present themselves. They may also exhibit severe mood changes and negative behavior such as confusion, frustration, anger, or fear when their altered worldview is challenged.

There is currently no cure for dementia or any of the main underlying conditions that cause dementia. There are some drugs, though, that can sometimes help slow the progression of the disease, especially early in the process. There are also lifestyle choices that many researchers believe can be modestly helpful.

What can cause dementia?

Each of the several major underlying conditions that manifest as dementia are different. These underlying causes are almost all related to degenerative diseases or conditions in the brain.

Let's look at the most common underlying conditions that lead to dementia.

Alzheimer's disease

This is the most common type of dementia. It's generally accepted that some cases are related to mutations of three genes, which can be passed down genetically. The two types of brain-attacking proteins that lead to Alzheimer's are plaques (beta-amyloid) and fibrous tangles (tau protein).

Alzheimer's progression, for many people, will be a long, reasonably predictable ramp. It often has a timeliness that helps healthcare experts anticipate when physical difficulties like speech problems and mobility issues might come up.

By contrast, other dementia conditions are more like stair steps where you don't know when the next step down is coming, you don't see the depth of the step, and you can't predict the length of time you will spend on it.

Lewy body dementia

This is the second-most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer's disease. People with Lewy body dementia may also have difficulty concentrating or staying alert and experience signs consistent with Parkinson's disease, such as difficulty with movement, rigid muscles, and body tremors. However, not everyone with Parkinson's will contract dementia.

The protein deposits that cause this condition are known as Lewy bodies. They grow in the nerve cells that reside in the part of the brain involved in memory, thinking, and motor control. These deposits can cause visual hallucinations, changes in blood pressure, digestive issues, depression, apathy, and poor sleep behavior. Lewy body is very aggressive and can produce a more unpredictable course than Alzheimer's.

Frontotemporal dementia

Early-onset dementia is also associated with another disease state termed frontotemporal. This is an umbrella term for a set of relatively rare brain disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These lobes primarily control an individual's personality, behavior, and speaking functions.

Symptoms vary depending on the part of the brain being affected. In some cases, people with frontotemporal dementia display significant changes in their personality that can lead to socially inappropriate behavior, impulsiveness, or emotional distancing.

More uncommonly, some affected by frontotemporal dementia may display symptoms that parallel Parkinson's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), such as tremors, muscle spasms, rigidity, difficulty swallowing, and more.

Vascular dementia

This dementia condition is associated with memory, judgment, planning, and reasoning problems due to impaired blood flow to the brain. Vascular dementia can present itself following a stroke that blocked an artery in the brain. However, strokes don't always lead to vascular dementia.

The disease can also result from the brain being deprived of vital oxygen and nutrients due to conditions that harm blood vessels and reduce circulation. Signs of vascular dementia include trouble concentrating, confusion, indecision, poor memory, reduction in analytical judgmental skills, and agitation.

Mixed dementia

When someone suffers from a combination of several types of dementia, they are said to have mixed dementia. Mixed dementia adds another dimension to identifying symptoms, determining treatment, and coping on a day-to-day basis.

Memory Care for people with dementia

Many people diagnosed with dementia will eventually need professional help, either in the home or in a specialized Memory Care community or a Nursing home.

Memory Care communities provide the specialized care and services required to help people at all stages of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Staff members are specially trained to understand their needs and support residents who may be experiencing frustration, anxiety, aggression, or communication issues related to cognitive decline.

The apartments are designed for easy navigation, surroundings provide mental stimulation, and extra security measures are in place to ensure that everyone is safe and accounted for at all times.

Memory Care communities provide the best environment for people with dementia to thrive, relax, and experience joy on a day-to-day basis.

Find Assisted Living/Memory Care on Long Island

When it's time to explore Assisted Living/Memory Care options for an elderly loved one, contact Mike McClernon of Assisted Living Locators of Long Island.

Mike has collaborated with hundreds of families just like yours to help find the most appropriate Memory Care Community for their older relatives. He will ensure that you make the most informed choice on where your loved ones will thrive and be well cared for during their vintage years.

Contact Mike today at 516-254-9481 or mikem@assistedlivinglocators.com to explore Senior Living Community options for the older person in your life. His phone is always on!