All of us forget things from time to time, and this is perfectly normal. Many elderly people worry that misplacing items such as keys, or spectacles, could be early signs of dementia, but these are perfectly normal occurrences and are often no cause for alarm.
However, when these things begin to happen more regularly, and are accompanied by problems with mobility, speech, and learning, it could be time to see a doctor to rule out something more serious.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of symptoms that impact how we think, feel, and remember. There are many different types of dementia that can present similar symptoms which may make it difficult to diagnose. in the early stages.
The type of condition that you or a loved one is diagnosed with is likely to affect the type of dementia care that’s required. However, other factors also come into play, such as overall health and medical conditions, healthy diet, activity levels, and the amount of alcohol someone has drunk over the years.
This means it’s unlikely that two or more people will experience the same symptoms of dementia, or follow the same progression of the disease. However, it is still possible to raise the alarm and get help if something doesn’t seem right. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the most common types of dementia, and where you can turn to for free advice and support.
What are the 5 most common types of dementia?
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the well-known causes of dementia, and for good reason. According to Dementia UK, it accounts for up to 60% of dementia diagnoses in the UK. The onset is usually very slow, which can make it difficult to determine in the early stages.
With Alzheimer’s, changes in the brain can start years before the first symptoms appear. These changes include the build-up of Amyloid plaques and tau tangles – which are toxic proteins that prevent the brain’s nerve cells from functioning properly. Eventually, these brain cells begin to die and areas of the brain shrink.
Alzheimer’s disease begins in the part of the brain that helps us to form new memories and recall old ones, which is why people living with early-stage Alzheimer’s usually experience:
- Difficulties in remembering names or recalling recent events
- Forgetfulness, such as asking the same question repeatedly, or struggling to find the right words to use
- Difficulties in managing or planning daily life, such as coping with financial transactions, or keeping a diary
Find out more about symptoms directly from the NHS website.
If you notice that a loved one is also experiencing bouts of confusion, or changes in their mood or personality, such as depression, for example, then it could be helpful to arrange for medical checks. They may be sent to a Memory Clinic where they’ll complete some diagnostic tests with a dementia specialist.
Because it’s a leading cause of dementia, there’s a lot of free support and resources available. The Alzhiemer’s Society is the UK’s largest dedicated charity offering a support helpline, online and print information, expert dementia advisers and an active online community.
There are local independent support groups across the UK too, such as Alzheimer’s Wiltshire, your GP, district nurse, or social worker should be able to recommend any local groups you could benefit from.
Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
Slight cognitive decline is a natural part of ageing – many of us will forget things like appointments from time to time, or the right word during a conversation, or find it tricky to make certain decisions. However, if these things start to happen more often, and aren’t accompanied by any other dementia symptoms, it could be a sign of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), rather than dementia.
People with MCI are usually able to live completely independently despite experiencing dementia-like symptoms. MCI can often be kept under control with lifestyle changes such as sticking to a daily routine, getting enough sleep, and eating well.
However, each year, around 1 in 10 people with MCI develop dementia, so it’s important to raise any changes with a doctor as soon as you notice them.
Vascular dementia can be the result of a previous condition that’s damaged the brain’s blood vessels and reduced the flow of blood and oxygen getting to the brain – such as a stroke or blood clot. This harms and eventually kills cells within the brain.
Single-infarct and multi-infarct dementia are two types of vascular dementia caused by a series of small strokes – sometimes so small that they happen with no symptoms, or temporary symptoms lasting just a few minutes at a time. If these strokes interrupt blood flow for more than a few minutes they can kill small areas of brain tissue – which is called an infarct.
Many of the symptoms of vascular dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s, such as disorientation, memory loss and difficulty communicating, but other symptoms may also be present, depending on the area of the brain that is affected. Common warning signs include:
- Trouble processing new information
- Difficulties with reasoning and paying attention
- Changes to mobility, such as how a person walks
Find out more about symptoms directly from the NHS website.
Because of the way it attacks the brain, the damage can often be visible with an MRI scan, and therefore diagnosis may be a little easier than with other dementias.
The onset tends to be slow, however, the speed with which vascular dementia progresses over time varies person to person, but symptoms will worsen until they need quality care and support with some day-to-day tasks.
Lewy body dementia
Dementia with lewy bodies, also known as DLB, is responsible for many of the most common dementia symptoms.
While scientists are still learning about this form of dementia, they do know that it’s associated with clumps of protein – called Lewy bodies that accumulate in the brain.
It’s believed that these Lewy bodies can stop the chemicals needed to send messages between brain cells from being produced. Without the ability to share information among cells, certain tasks such as learning, movement, and sleep become difficult.
Common signs of lewy-body dementia include:
- Tremors, muscle stiffness and slower movements than usual.
- Sleep disturbances and an inability to maintain a healthy sleep pattern
- Visual hallucinations – seeing things that aren’t there, or mistakenly identifying things
Find out more about symptoms directly from the NHS website.
Another less common symptom is a tendency to faint, which can increase the likelihood of falls and accidents at home. DLB usually progresses slowly, but eventually, those living with the late stages will require help and assistance with daily activities such as dressing, eating and bathing.
For more information on DBL The Lewy Body Society is a great place to start. They provide a wealth of up to the minute research and education on this form of dementia and can connect you to the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline for a one-to-one confidential chat.
Commonly known as FTD, frontotemporal dementia causes different symptoms, depending on the particular area of the brain that’s damaged. Some people may experience problems relating to social behaviour if the frontal lobe is affected, if the temporal lobes are affected it could be more difficult to process language or facts.
While the cause is still unknown, it’s thought that tiny protein structures called Pick bodies could play a part. Recognised symptoms include:
- Changes in personality, such as an inability to behave appropriately
- Language troubles, such as speaking slowly, making the wrong sounds, or using words in the wrong order
Find out more about symptoms directly from the NHS website
As with all types of dementia, symptoms gradually worsen over time, meaning that those diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia are likely to need help with basic tasks eventually.
Rare Dementia Support offers a wide range of free resources to those looking to learn more about and adjust to life with fronto-temporal dementia. These include short films and practical guides, to support group meetings.
It’s possible for someone living with dementia to have two or more types present at the same time – for example, a person may have vascular dementia following a stroke, but have Lewy bodies present in their brain too. When this happens, it’s called mixed dementia.
There are a lot of different types of dementia beyond these five most common – meaning the combination possibilities are vast. This can manifest as a unique cluster of symptoms and make it difficult to diagnose beyond the broad term of ‘dementia’.
Rarer types of dementia
There are actually hundreds of different forms of dementia – while the 5 named above are the most common, you may have heard of the below too.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) – This is one of the rarest forms of dementia. While it presents a lot of them same symptoms as common forms, it progresses far quicker, usually reaching the final stage within a year of diagnosis.
Huntingdon’s disease – This is a genetic condition that can cause dementia – typically leading to symptoms when people are in their 30s and 40s. The condition damages nerve cells in the brain which can cause symptoms such as the inability to focus, trouble with speech and language skills, difficulties swallowing, and tremors and muscle spasms.
Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) – This is another condition that can cause dementia symptoms like poor balance, forgetfulness and erratic mood. It happens when too much fluid builds up in the brain’s ventricles – putting pressure on the brain and damaging nearby brain tissue. Fluid buildup can be caused by traumatic brain injury, infection, brain disorders, and brain tumours.
What type of dementia is hereditary?
Having a close family member with dementia doesn’t mean you’re destined to be diagnosed in later life too. However, genetics can be a risk factor for dementia in some very rare cases.
Huntingdon’s disease and an extremely rare form of Alzheimer’s called Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) can be passed on. With both conditions, if a parent has the gene that causes it, each child in their family has a 50% chance of inheriting it. However, cases of both these types represent a tiny portion of dementia cases in the UK.
In terms of more common types, Frontotemporal has been found to be passed on from parent to child. It’s also believed that around 20-40% of people with FTD have at least one family member with some form of dementia. However, while this is referred to as common dementia when compared to Alzheimer’s, there are very few cases.
Why it’s important to get a diagnosis
According to Dementia UK, it can take an average of just over 2 years to confirm a diagnosis of dementia, so acting on the earliest signs while scary, is really important. This means a treatment plan can be started quicker, which may slow the progression of the condition.
An accurate diagnosis will be able to rule out or treat any conditions that present similar symptoms too, such as MCI, and some thyroid, heart and vision problems.
What dementia support can I expect from the NHS and Social Services?
Social services support for dementia
Your local council’s adult social services department assists with personal care and day-to-day activities.
Social services may offer the following support:
- carers to help with personal care
- Laundry services
- Meals on wheels
- Adaptions to your home and equipment
- Day centres
It’s advisable to obtain a needs assessment from social services to accurately identify any overlooked needs and determine if assistance is necessary. A needs assessment is available at no cost and is accessible to anyone who requests it.
If the assessment determines that assistance is required with daily activities, a social worker will be in contact to discuss the needs with you. Together, you can establish a shared plan of necessary support and how it will be provided.
The next step involves a financial assessment (means test) conducted by your local council to determine if they will contribute to your care expenses.
NHS support for dementia
The NHS offers various services for dementia, including treatment from your GP and hospital, as well as other forms of healthcare, including –
- Hearing care (audiology)
- Eye tests (opticians)
- Dental care
- Speech and language therapy
- Older People’s Mental Health team
In some areas of the country, the NHS collaborates with the charity Dementia UK to provide Admiral Nurses. Admiral Nurses are specialist dementia nurses provided by the NHS. They offer practical guidance on accessing services and provide emotional support through home visits.
NHS continuing healthcare
Individuals with complex health and care needs may be eligible for NHS continuing healthcare, which covers the cost of all necessary care at home or in a care home, including services provided by the local council. Funding for this is provided by the local integrated care board, an NHS organisation responsible for developing plans for meeting the population’s health needs, managing the NHS budget, and arranging for the provision of health services in a geographical area.
A diagnosis of dementia does not guarantee eligibility for NHS continuing healthcare. Instead, eligibility is determined by assessing the individual’s daily care needs and determining how best to meet them.
To determine eligibility for NHS continuing healthcare, an assessment by a team of healthcare professionals is necessary. To begin the assessment process, contact your local ICB and ask to speak with the NHS continuing healthcare coordinator.
NHS-funded nursing care
This concept is similar to NHS continuing healthcare but specifically for individuals residing in nursing homes. If you meet the eligibility criteria, the NHS will cover the cost of your nursing care. To determine eligibility for NHS-funded nursing care, reach out to your local ICB and inquire about the NHS continuing healthcare coordinator.
The NHS free dementia guides – The Dementia Information service
The Dementia Information Service provides support and guidance during the challenging time following a dementia diagnosis. They’re emails that can support individuals who have recently discovered or accepted that they or a loved one have dementia.
The emails are sent out weekly for six weeks, covering the following topics:
- Understanding dementia – important information about dementia, including what to do and who to speak to after a diagnosis.
- Dementia healthcare – Find out about the best treatments available and how to get the most out of available healthcare services.
- Dementia at home – How to make someone with dementia as comfortable and safe as possible at home, including what technology and home adaptions are available.
- Finance and legal – How to organise financial and legal affairs and make future plans for the person with a dementia diagnosis.
- Social care – Information on what help is available from social services.
- For Carers – Information for carers about where to get help and support for themselves.
Read more about dementia
Dementia Action Week is Alzheimer’s Society’s awareness campaign, which runs yearly to encourage people to ‘act on dementia’. At Elder, we want to shine