Does my loved one have dementia?

It's a question that many caregivers simultaneously want and dread the answer to.

There's a common misconception that the primary indicator of dementia is memory loss. The reality is that different forms of dementia have different signs.

Here are some of the indicators that signal each type of dementia:

Alzheimer's disease

  • Memory loss: Early-stage Alzheimer's is almost always hallmarked by some form of memory loss. A person may experience difficulty trying to remember a particular word, or the name of someone they just met. They may also be more prone to losing important objects. Often, a person's short-term memory is the first thing affected by Alzheimer's. Memory loss gradually gets worse until long-term recollections are impacted as well. A person in the later stages of Alzheimer's won't be able to remember their own name, how to dress themselves, or even how to smile.
  • Trouble performing familiar tasks: A super-organized individual may become scattered as a result of Alzheimer's. Not remembering the route to the grocery store, or forgetting something they just read are two additional early-to-mid-stage Alzheimer's indicators.
  • Bad judgment: Unsound financial decisions, inappropriate public outbursts and an inability to understand and abide by social norms of cleanliness and grooming are all signs of increasingly poor judgment that may signify Alzheimer's.
  • Social withdrawal: People suffering from memory loss may be reluctant to engage in social activities. They are easily overwhelmed by large groups of people, even close friends and family.
  • Sundowning: When the sun goes down, an Alzheimer's sufferer may become fearful, agitated and sad. They may pace, hallucinate, shadow their caregiver and wander. This collection of emotions and subsequent behaviors is referred to as "Sundowner's syndrome" or "sundowning." Sundowning can be a sign of virtually any type of dementia, but is most often seen in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.

Discover more information about the signs symptoms and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

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Lewy-Body dementia

  • Hallucinations and delusions: Seeing, hearing, and even tasting things that aren't real is widely considered one of the first signs of Lewy Body dementia. Also occurring early on in the disease are persistent fictitious beliefs about a particular person or circumstance. For caregivers this particular dementia behavior can seem like manipulation.
  • Sleep troubles: Another early symptom of Lewy Body dementia is known as REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD). A person with RBD will talk and move while still asleep. Once awake, they may struggle to distinguish between their dreams and reality. A person with RBD won't always develop Lewy Body dementia, but research suggests that about 66 percent of people with RBD will eventually develop a degenerative brain disorder, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association.
  • Varying degrees of alertness: A person with Lewy Body dementia may experience periods of lucidity, interspersed with episodes of profound disorientation that may last anywhere from minutes to days. These cycles of confusion and clarity are not tied to any particular time of day, unlike the sundowning behaviors seen in people with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Movement issues: A person with Lewy Body dementia may resemble a person suffering from Parkinson's because of the effect the disease has on their ability to control their body and perceive their environment. Stiff movements, a hunched over posture and shuffling can all be physical manifestations of cognitive degeneration. These mobility issues also up a person's risk for falling.
  • Medication sensitivity: About half of Lewy Body dementia sufferers develop an extreme sensitivity to antipsychotic medications that can result in worsening of existing dementia symptoms, and Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome, which can lead to death.
  • Memory and cognitive issues: Memory loss is typically one of the last symptoms to show up in people with Lewy Body dementia.

Discover more information about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Lewy Body dementia.

Vascular Dementia

  • Vascular dementia usually follows deprivation of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. The symptoms of vascular dementia are different depending on which part of the person's brain was impacted by reduced blood flow. Memory loss, confusion, depression, problems with planning and organization, mobility issues and urinary incontinence are all possible signs that a person is suffering from vascular dementia.

Discover more information about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Vascular dementia.

Frontotemporal Dementia (Pick's disease)

  • There are several types of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), each with their own set of initial symptoms that gradually begin to intersect as the disease gets worse.
  • Loss of inhibition: Saying and doing inappropriate things is a common sign that a person has developed some form of FTD.
  • Problems with language: A person who consistently has trouble remembering words, or using the right words to describe what they're talking about may suffer from FTD.
  • Movement issues: Similar to Lewy Body dementia, FTD can also cause rigid movements and a lack of coordination.

Discover more information about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Frontal Lobe (Frontotemporal) dementia.