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Types of Alzheimer's Disease

8/13/2014, 2 p.m.
Alzheimer's disease is by far the most well-known and common type of dementia with symptoms including memory loss, confusion, difficulty ...
Blacks have a higher rate of vascular dementia than whites and, what alarms health officials is the fact that screening and assessment tools and clinical trials aren't designed to address the unique presentation of Alzheimer's disease in blacks. (Courtesy photo)

Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most well-known and common type of dementia with symptoms including memory loss, confusion, difficulty communicating, anxiousness and paranoia. 
The mechanisms behind Alzheimer’s disease aren’t well understood and there are competing hypothesis, but the most distinguishing feature of Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain. It’s widely believed that these brain changes are behind the disease.

There are many therapies, both pharmaceutical and non-chemical which can temporarily increase functioning and improve the spirits of the person with Alzheimer’s disease, but no treatment has proven to be effective. Officials at the Alzheimer’s Association in Frederick, Maryland, said at this time there’s no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The U.S. government has made Alzheimer’s research a top priority and set the optimistic goal of finding a cure by 2025. Vigorous research continues and numerous possible treatments are being investigated.

Vascular dementia is also known as multi-infarct dementia or “post-stroke dementia” and is the second most common cause of dementia with symptoms that include memory loss, impaired judgment, decreased ability to plan and the loss of motivation.

Vascular dementia can cause bleeding within the brain which leads to stroke, a cause of brain damage.

Vascular dementia cannot be cured, but people who have the ailment are treated to prevent further brain injury from the underlying cause of the ailment. Like Alzheimer’s disease, numerous medications and therapies may be used to help manage the symptoms.

Lewy body dementia is the third most common cause of dementia, and is also called “cortical Lewy body disease” or “diffuse Lewy body disease.” The primary symptoms include sleep problems, memory loss, hallucinations, and frequent swings in alertness.

Lewy body contains abnormal proteins that somehow appear in nerve cells and impair functioning within the brain, which causes this type of dementia.

There is no known treatment to reverse Lewy body dementia or address its underlying cellular cause, but as with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, a wide array of therapies and treatment are used to improve the patient’s quality of life and temporarily alleviate symptoms.

Frontotemporal dementia is fairly rare, but believed to be the fourth most common type of dementia. Unlike the types of dementia discussed previously, frontotemporal dementia is marked more by behavioral and emotional changes than by cognitive impairment. In fact, memory is preserved in people with frontotemporal dementia.

The primary symptoms include a decreased inhibition (frequently leading to inappropriate behavior), apathy and loss of motivation, decreased empathy, repetitiveness of compulsive behaviors, and anxiety and depression.

Frontotemporal dementia occurs when the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain are damaged or shrink. It cannot be cured or reversed, but doctors will use medicines to treat uncomfortable or problematic symptoms.

Just about any condition that causes damage to the brain or nerve cells can cause dementia. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease will often exhibit dementia in the later stages of their illness. Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease and alcoholism can all lead to irreversible cognitive impairment.

Source: National Institute on Aging