The four most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia. Each of these types of dementia is characterised by a unique set of symptoms and underlying causes.
Dementia is a term used to describe a range of symptoms associated with a decline in cognitive function, including memory loss, mood changes and difficulty communicating. In the UK, there are currently around 944,000 people living with dementia and this number is projected to rise.
The Good Care Group provides round-the-clock live-in care services for people with dementia empowering them to live fulfilling and independent lives. Here we will explore the symptoms and underlying causes of the four main types of dementia and provide insight into how the condition can be managed.
The four main types of dementia explained
Here is a brief overview of the four main types of dementia. While there are other less common types of dementia, these four main types account for the majority of cases:
Alzheimer’s disease (AD): This is the most common type of dementia, accounting for up to 70% of cases. Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by the progressive loss of cognitive function, including memory, language and reasoning skills.
Vascular dementia (VaD): This is the second most common type of dementia. It is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, often due to a stroke or other vascular disease. Symptoms of vascular dementia can include confusion, difficulty with concentration and problems with memory.
Lewy body dementia (LBD): This type of dementia is caused by the abnormal buildup of proteins in the brain. Symptoms of LBD can include visual hallucinations, tremors and problems with movement and coordination.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD): This type of dementia is caused by the degeneration of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Symptoms of FTD can include changes in behaviour, personality and language skills.
Remember that if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of dementia, it is important to speak to your GP or other healthcare professional. They can help you obtain a proper diagnosis for your symptoms and develop a treatment plan.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It is a progressive and degenerative brain disorder that can greatly affect memory, thinking and behaviour.
The condition typically begins with mild memory loss and cognitive decline and gradually progresses to more severe symptoms, including impaired communication, disorientation and difficulty with daily activities. While the progression of Alzheimer’s disease often varies from person to person, there are generally three stages: early, moderate, and advanced.
As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s often require more extensive care and support from family members or other healthcare professionals to maintain their quality of life.
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood. It is likely caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
One of the key features of AD is the accumulation of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, which can lead to the formation of plaques. AD can also cause a reduction in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain such as acetylcholine, which are important for communication between brain cells.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will vary from person to person, but some common signs include:
Memory loss, particularly for recent events
Difficulty with language, including speaking and understanding words
Problems with decision-making and problem-solving
Changes in mood or behaviour, such as apathy or agitation
Difficulty with spatial awareness and navigation
Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications that can help to manage the symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitors can improve memory and cognitive function, while memantine can help to improve communication between brain cells. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and a healthy diet may help to slow the progression of the disease.
Vascular dementia (VaD) is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. This reduced blood flow can be caused by a variety of conditions, including stroke, high blood pressure or atherosclerosis. Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, accounting for around 20% of all cases.
Like Alzheimer’s disease, the progression of vascular dementia can vary from person to person. Some people experience a rapid decline, while others may have a more gradual progression of symptoms. Early detection and diagnosis are crucial for managing the condition effectively and improving quality of life.
VaD is typically caused by a stroke or other condition that reduces blood flow to the brain. This can result in damage to the brain cells and the death of neurons. Risk factors for VaD include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.
The symptoms of VaD can vary depending on the location and severity of the damage to the brain. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, which typically progresses slowly, VaD may have a sudden onset and progress more rapidly. The symptoms may also worsen quickly following a series of mini-strokes.
Some common signs include:
Problems with memory and thinking
Difficulty with concentration and decision-making
Confusion and disorientation
Problems with balance and coordination
Mood swings and personality changes
Difficulty with speech and language
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for VaD. Treatment can help to manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Medications may be used to control blood pressure and cholesterol levels and antiplatelet drugs such as aspirin may be prescribed to reduce the risk of stroke. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and a healthy diet may help to reduce the risk of further damage to the brain.
Lewy body dementia
Lewy body dementia is a type of dementia that is caused by abnormal protein deposits in the brain, called Lewy bodies. It is the third most common form of dementia, accounting for around 10-25% of all cases.
The symptoms of Lewy body dementia can be similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. They may include memory loss, confusion, tremors and difficulty with movement.
One characteristic feature of LBD is the presence of visual hallucinations, which can be very vivid and realistic. These hallucinations are often one of the first signs of the disease.
LBD is caused by the buildup of abnormal protein deposits in the brain, called Lewy bodies. These deposits disrupt the normal functioning of brain cells and are thought to be related to the death of neurons. The exact cause of Lewy body dementia is not known, but it is believed to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The symptoms of LBD can vary depending on the individual and the stage of the disease. Some common signs include:
Problems with memory and thinking
Difficulty with movement and coordination
Hallucinations and delusions
Fluctuations in alertness and attention
Changes in mood and behaviour
There is currently no cure for LBD, but treatment can help to manage symptoms. Medications may be used to control hallucinations, improve sleep and manage movement disorders. Non-pharmacological interventions such as occupational therapy and physical therapy can also help manage the symptoms of the disease.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a type of dementia that affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which control language, behaviour, and personality.
Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, which primarily affects memory, people living with FTD often experience changes in personality, behaviour and language skills. The progression of FTD will vary from person to person, but it typically progresses faster than Alzheimer’s disease.
FTD is caused by damage to the nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The exact cause of this damage is not known, but it is believed to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The symptoms of FTD can vary depending on the person and the stage of the disease. One characteristic feature of FTD is the early onset of symptoms, typically occurring in the 40s or 50s.
Some common signs include:
Changes in personality and behaviour
Difficulty with language and communication
Inappropriate social behaviour
Poor judgement and decision-making
Lack of empathy
Loss of interest in activities
Although there is currently no cure for FTD, medications may be used to control some of the behavioural symptoms. Non-pharmacological interventions such as speech therapy and occupational therapy may help manage language and communication difficulties.
Which types of dementia are hereditary?
Several types of dementia are hereditary, meaning they can be passed down through families. However, not all cases of these types of dementia are hereditary – in some cases, the disease may develop sporadically or due to environmental factors.
Here are the main types of hereditary dementia:
Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD): This is a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that is caused by inherited genetic mutations. People with FAD typically develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at a much younger age than those with the more common sporadic form of the disease.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD): Some cases of FTD are caused by inherited genetic mutations. These mutations affect the production of certain proteins in the brain, leading to damage and death of nerve cells.
Huntington’s disease: This is a rare, inherited disorder that affects the nerve cells in the brain. The disease typically develops in midlife and can cause a wide range of symptoms, including dementia.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD): There are several forms of CJD, including a rare hereditary form that is caused by inherited genetic mutations.
However, if you have a family history of any of these types of dementia, it may be worth discussing genetic testing with your doctor to assess your risk.
What are the early signs of dementia?
Every dementia is different and each individual will experience their dementia journey differently. However, there are some early dementia signs that you can look out for if you are concerned about a loved one.
Be aware that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional is necessary to diagnose dementia.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these early warning signs, speak with your doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Some of the early signs of dementia include:
Memory loss: One of the most common early signs of dementia is memory loss. This may include forgetting important dates or events, repeatedly asking the same questions, or struggling to remember recent conversations.
Difficulty with communication: Dementia can affect a person’s ability to communicate. A person with dementia may find it difficult to find the right words, repeat themselves or have difficulty following conversations.
Confusion: People with early-stage dementia may become easily confused, particularly in new or unfamiliar situations. They may also have difficulty with tasks that they used to find simple.
Changes in mood or personality: Dementia can cause changes in mood or personality. This may include increased irritability, depression or anxiety.
Difficulty with daily tasks: As dementia progresses, people may struggle with tasks that were once routine, such as cooking a meal, getting dressed or managing finances.
Dementia is a progressive condition meaning that symptoms typically worsen over time. While the stages of dementia can vary depending on the people and the type of dementia they have, there are generally considered to be three main stages:
Early-stage dementia: In the early stages of dementia, a person may experience mild cognitive impairment, such as memory loss or difficulty with communication. They may experience difficulty with tasks that were once routine. Despite these challenges, many people in the early stages of dementia are still able to live independently and continue with their normal activities.
Middle-stage dementia: As dementia progresses, a person’s symptoms will become more severe. In the middle stages of dementia, a person may experience significant memory loss and have difficulty with day-to-day tasks such as dressing, bathing and preparing meals. They may also experience personality changes, behavioural issues, and difficulty with language.
Late-stage dementia: In the late stages of dementia, a person’s cognitive and physical abilities will have declined significantly. They may become nonverbal and require assistance with all aspects of daily living. They may also be at increased risk of infections and other health complications.
Dementia care at home
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, know that there is support available to help improve your quality of life.
The Good Care Group has been innovating live-in dementia care for over 10 years. Our professional and compassionate carers are well-versed in a wide range of best dementia care practices designed to comfort and reassure your loved one, reduce stress and anxiety and facilitate better communication.
We are in a unique position of having an in-house Consultant Admiral Nurse who provides support for our clients living with dementia with complex care needs. She will support the individual, their loved ones and the care teams assisting them, so that care is delivered in a bespoke, holistic way that enables them to live well with dementia.
Live-in care allows your or your loved ones to receive the high-quality dementia care you need whilst being able to stay in your much-loved home. A highly-trained and well-matched carer will move into your home and provide dedicated one-to-one care and support.
With the gentle encouragement and support of a professional carer, people with dementia can continue living life as they always have in the comfort and safety of home.
We are here to support you and your family. Do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your dementia care needs with our friendly and approachable team.
Talk to us about your dementia care needs
We are experts in providing a fully managed, high-quality live-in care service rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by CQC. Call our friendly and approachable team today to see how we can help you and your family.
Dr Jane Pritchard is a consultant Admiral Nurse who specialises in the care and support of those living with dementia. She is a registered nurse with the Nursing and Midwifery Council specialising in mental health. She has over 20 years' experience working in care and has authored several publications on dementia care.