Understanding the Different Types of Dementia and How Caregivers Can Help

If you’re taking care of an older adult with dementia, it’s important to understand what that entails. Dementia is a commonly misunderstood set of symptoms that affects cognitive ability, and may affect personality, mood, behavior, and more.

Not all forms of dementia are the same

Dementia occurs when brain cells are damaged, which can happen by a variety of means. These affect both the symptoms and prognosis. In some cases, dementia can be treated, but in others managing the symptoms and delaying the disease’s progression is all that can be done. Read on to learn more about the different types of dementia:

Alzheimer’s dementia

For those over sixty-five, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Although certain lifestyle and genetic factors make an individual more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, scientists still aren’t sure of the root cause. Memory, language, reasoning, motor control, mood, and behavior can all be affected by Alzheimer’s, especially in the latter stages of the disease.

Vascular dementia

Dementia can also be caused by a decrease in vascular function, i.e., the way the blood vessels in the body work. Strokes and other blood or clotting disorders are things that can lead to vascular dementia. Unlike Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia doesn’t often affect mood and behavior, but can negatively influence memory, judgment, and motor function.

Dementia related to HIV or AIDS

Most of us are familiar with the fact that HIV and AIDS affect the body, but sadly, the brain is often a victim of these diseases as well. Depending on which parts of the brain are damaged, victims can display a multitude of symptoms. In the early stages, these can include memory loss, social withdrawal, and disinterest in formerly enjoyable activities.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia occurs when nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes start to break down. Like Alzheimer’s, the exact cause is unknown, but scientists believe there may be genetic link. Those most commonly affected are often between the ages of forty and sixty-five, and symptoms can include changes in appetite, compulsive behaviors, memory, and motor skills.
Other dementia-related conditions include dementia pugilistica (also known as “Boxer’s Syndrome) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

Caregivers need to know about the different types of dementia

Gaining a greater understanding of the different types of dementia for yourself is a good start. However, it’s equally important that any hired home health aides or other professionals who visit your loved one’s home understand them as well. Not all dementias are treated the same way, and management techniques that work for one may not work for another – or may even make things worse.
For instance, people with Alzheimer’s can experience changes in personality, acting out in ways that they never did before. Coping with these symptoms may involve keeping the patient calm with a soothing environment, familiar objects, and reduced stimulation. On the other hand, vascular dementia patients typically do not experience psychological or mood-related changes as a result of their condition. If signs of such things are present, they may indicate the patient is suffering from depression or a neurological condition unrelated to their dementia.
An experienced home health aide or visiting nurse should be able to identify scenarios like the ones above — and bring them to your attention if needed. If they do not, there is the possibility that your loved one could suffer from an untreated condition, or see their present condition start to deteriorate.

Face dementia armed with the facts

The more you know about the different types of dementia, the better prepared you will be to see that your loved one gets the help they need. Caregiving may also be easier on you, since now you know what to expect in terms of prognosis and behavior management. But whatever the future holds, knowledge can only mean power when it comes to facing an older adult’s dementia with courage, fortitude, and grace.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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Three and a half years ago, Maggie Fang started her journey as an Assessment Specialist in the Support at Home Program at IOA. Her excellent people skills enabled her to manage a caseload of older adults and individuals with disabilities, helping them receive homecare to age in place. Maggie was selected to pioneer the Temporary Respite Caregiver Support program, and we are delighted to have such a skilled and dedicated individual leading our newest program at IOA. Thank you, Maggie, for your exceptional work! 

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Join us at the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center as Caregiver Coach Alex shares with us the incredible support and care provided to participants living with dementia. Clients enjoy various engaging activities, from music therapy to art classes, designed to stimulate their cognitive and physical abilities. The skilled staff at the Enrichment Center also provides caregivers with much-needed support and respite, allowing them to take a break and attend to their needs. If you or someone you know is looking for support in caring for a loved one with dementia, the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center in the Presidio is an excellent resource for you! 

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