East Central Indiana Blog

The Different Types and Causes of Dementia

We are not medical professionals and recommend that you speak with your or your family member’s physician for clarification and insight on your unique situation.

Though there is more awareness today of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, many people still confuse the two terms. So what exactly is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

Dementia is not a disease, but a syndrome, which is a “group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.” Dementia is a group of symptoms that affects memory and cognitive function and can have many different causes. This is similar to having a sore throat, which is a symptom that can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, allergies or even just strain from yelling at a sporting event. Similarly, Dementia has many potential causes. Alzheimer’s disease is a very common cause of dementia, but they are not one and the same.

What Causes Dementia
Dementia, as mentioned above, is a syndrome that can be caused by numerous conditions when there is damage to brain cells. The likelihood of developing dementia increases with age. Degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are major causes of dementia. Other causes include: infections, HIV, vascular diseases, stroke, and even chronic drug use. Research suggests that up to 70 percent of all cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease
Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include difficulty remembering things like names, dates, or even recent conversations, as well as feeling apathetic or depressed. As the disease progresses, symptoms like confusion and disorientation, difficulty talking, moving, and swallowing can appear. Alzheimer’s is a slow progressing disease that begins long before symptoms start to show.

Vascular Dementia
Also known as multi-infarct or post-stroke dementia, vascular dementia accounts for only about 10 percent of cases of dementia. Initial symptoms may be difficulty or inability to make decisions, plan or organize. This can be caused by damage to brain cells from either ischemic (blood clot type) or hemorrhagic (bleeding type) of strokes.

Each individual is unique and the severity and quantity of the injuries as well as where they are located will determine how the person’s cognitive function is affected.

Mixed Dementia
This is a combination of multiple causes of dementia simultaneously. Symptoms of Alzheimer's and vascular dementia are the most common, but other less common types may be present as well such as dementia with Lewy bodies. This makes the exact cause more difficult to pinpoint.
The specific treatment for dementia will be determined by the cause, though many will overlap. For example, doctors will often use the same treatment used for Parkinson’s or dementia with Lewy bodies as they do for Alzheimer’s disease. But, treatment for vascular dementia would be very different. Always be sure to consult your family physician with any concerns or questions about symptoms you or a loved one may have to best treat your unique situation.

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