Dementia – What are the Signs

Dear Dementia Diary,

Dementia is an umbrella term for several diseases affecting memory, other cognitive abilities, and behaviour.  These diseases significantly interfere with a person’s ability to maintain activities of daily living. Although age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia, according to the World Health Organization, “it is not a normal part of ageing”.  WHO, also, states, “that 50 million are currently affected by dementia, worldwide, and that few countries have a national dementia plan.”  No wonder you are feeling a bit alone in this process!

When you begin to notice changes, start writing them down.  This will be such an asset to you and your family when approaching the medical professionals.  In most cases, those symptoms may not be typical to everyone.

Recognizing that there are over 110 different types of diseases under the dementia umbrella, I want to talk about some of the most common.

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.  It accounts for somewhere in the vicinity of 60-80 % of all dementias.  From time to time, we all have moments of forgetfulness.  Most of us have walked into a room and wondered why we came in there in the first place, but people, with Alzheimer’s disease, will begin to display behaviours and symptoms that worsen over time.  Again, this is not normal ageing.  It is a progressive brain disease.  The symptoms to be looking for include:

  • memory loss affecting daily activities
  • trouble with familiar tasks
  • difficulties with problem-solving
  • trouble with word finding, reading, or writing
  • becoming disoriented about times or places
  • decreased judgment
  • misplacing things
  • mood and personality changes
  • loss of initiative

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia.  This disease can occur when the brain’s blood supply is blocked or damaged by a stroke causing brain cells to be deprived of oxygen and die.  Symptoms can appear suddenly or may be mild and go unnoticed in the beginning.  Symptoms to be looking for include:

  • confusion and memory problems
  • difficulty paying attention and focusing
  • being easily agitated or upset
  • difficulty walking or poor balance
  • difficulty controlling urination or needing to urinate frequently

Lewy Body dementia (LBD) is a progressive disease involving protein deposits on the brain.  These deposits were named after, the scientist who discovered them, Friedrich H. Lewy.  Here is where it gets really interesting.  There are several types of Lewy Body, but the most common is associated with Parkinson’s disease.  Symptoms to be looking for include:

  • difficulty with attention and executive function (memory impairment may not be a symptom in the early stages)
  • visual hallucinations (these hallucinations are usually well formed and very real to the person)
  • Parkinsonism – the person may shuffle or walk stiffly and body stiffness or tremors may occur
  • sensitivity to anti-psychotic drugs which can, sometimes, be severe

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is the most common dementia for persons under the age of 60.  FTD is one of the more challenging diseases for families.   Our frontal lobe is the area where our social graces are located.  This disease can be challenging in public settings.  Symptoms to be looking for include:

  • changes in behaviour and personality
  • loss of insight into oneself or others
  • difficulty planning or organizing
  • inappropriate language or behaviour
  • decreased judgement

Focussing on the above dementias, in this article, does not imply that all types of dementia aren’t important.  One person with dementia, is one person with dementia.


Take care.

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