Dementia is a symptom of a number of disorders that affect the brain. The signs of dementia are impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal daily activities. People suffering with dementia have the inability to solve problems and have a hard time controlling their emotions. They experience severe personality changes and become agitated easily. They also have trouble with delusions and hallucinations. Not everyone with memory loss by itself has dementia but dementia is diagnosed if someone has trouble dealing with more than one brain function such as memory and language skills.
There are many disorders that cause dementia such as Alzheimer’s but many types of dementia can be halted or reversed with appropriate treatment.
Dementia can be classified many ways, such as if they are progressive or what parts of the brain are affected. Some of the classifications include:
Cortical – which is where the brain damage primarily affects the cortex or outer layer. People suffering from cortical tend to have more problems with memory, language, thinking and behavior.
Sub-cortical – is where the dementia affects the brain below the cortex this tends to cause more changes in emotions and movement, in addition to problems with memory.
Progressive dementia – is the type of dementia that gets progressively worse over time and gradually interferes with more and more abilities.
Primary dementia – is dementia that does not result from any other disease.
Secondary dementia – is the dementia that occurs as a result of a physical disease or injury.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in people over the age of 65. Most sufferers have a gradual decline in cognitive abilities and nearly all the brain functions are affected memory, movement, language, judgment, behavior and thinking.
Vascular dementia is probably the second most cause of dementia. It is caused by brain damage from a stroke which is a cerebral vascular or cardiovascular problem. It may result from infection of a heart valve, a brain bleed (bleeding stroke). The incident of vascular dementia increases with advancing age in both men and women. Symptoms of vascular dementia often begin suddenly after a stroke, it may or may not get worse over time. However in some cases it may get better with time. This type of dementia often is determined by whether a person has had previous strokes or heart attacks. Vascular dementia often maintain their personality and emotional responses but may later deteriorate. They may tend to wander at night and have incontinence, along with depression. Sometimes it may affect only one side of the body and just a few specific functions such as language and thinking.
LBD is Lewy body dementia and is the most common type of progressive dementia. This disease occurs sporadically in people with no known family history of the disease. In LBD cells die in the brain cortex and in a part of the mid-brain. This type of dementia causes memory impairment, poor judgment and confusion. It may cause hallucinations and Parkinson’s symptoms like a shuffling gait in one’s walk, it may fluctuate in severity.
Frontotemporal dementia is FTD and is sometimes referred to as frontal lobe dementia. FTD sufferers usually have an abnormal form of protein in the brain which accumulates into neurofibrillary tangles and causes normal cells to malfunction and the cells may die. People who have FTD usually have problems with maintaining normal interactions with people, they exhibit inappropriate behavior such as language, stealing, compulsive behaviors or repetitive behaviors. They have increased appetite, along with balance problems.
HIV associated dementia or HAD results from the HIV infection which can cause destruction of the brain’s white matter. This type of dementia causes impaired memory, apathy, social withdrawal, difficulty in concentrating.
Huntington’s disease – HD is a hereditary disorder caused by a gene for a protein called huntingtin. HD causes degeneration in many areas of the brain and spinal cord. HD sufferers usually have mild personality changes such as irritability, anxiety and depression but they usually progress and get more severe over time. They have involuntary jerky movements, muscle weakness, clumsiness and gait problems.
Dementia puglistica is also called chronic traumatic encephalopathy and is caused by head trauma. This dementia may occur many years after the trauma has occurred. They may develop poor coordination, slurred speech.
Corticobasal degeneration (CBD) is a progressive disorder brought on by nerve cell loss and atrophy of multiple areas of the brain. Some symptoms of CBD are poor coordination, rigidity and are similar to those found in Parkinson’s disease. Sufferers may experience memory loss, visual problems, loss of the ability to make purposeful movements. They may have hesitant or halting speech, muscular jerky movements and difficulty swallowing.
Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease is CJD and is a rare and degenerative brain disorder, which is fatal. Symptoms usually begin around 60 and most people die within one year. This disease my be acquired through exposure to diseased brain or nervous system tissue through medical procedures. Sufferers experience muscular coordination problems, personality changes, thinking problems, impaired vision. They may also have insomnia and depression. A form of CJD has been commonly called mad cow disease.
Although there are other types of dementia’s these are the most common. The causes for the dementia vary greatly and the symptoms are all pretty much the same. My grandmother had dementia due to Alzheimer’s however I have known someone in the past that had a traumatic brain injury which caused him to have many dementia problems and of course being a nurse, I have been around many people that because of a stroke or heart attack have dementia symptoms, some of which have gotten worse and some have improved greatly over time.
I have worked in nursing a long time and seeing someone struggle with remembering people, names, how to eat and severe personality changes is hard. You can see on their faces sometimes how frustrating it is not to be able to think or do what they used to, in a way it seems like they are lost.
References for this article include the Alzheimer’s Foundation, Web MD, Alzheimer’s Organization and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.