Dementia and Its Many Forms

Dementia is a collective term used to describe symptoms seen in brain disorders, like memory loss and problems with language and thinking. According to the American Academy of Family, dementia symptoms include memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks, problems communicating, disorientation, poor judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, mood and personality changes, and loss of initiative.

Traumatic brain injury, prion diseases, and HIV are all causes of dementia. Dementia can also be created by underlying factors such as depression, medications, vitamin deficiencies, and thyroid abnormalities. Treating these underlying factors can reverse dementia.

There are several different brain disorders that fall under the dementia umbrella:

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. Symptoms include difficulty remembering recent conversations, names or events, apathy and depression, impaired communication, poor judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
  2. Vascular Dementia accounts for about 10% of dementia cases.Symptoms include impaired judgment and difficulty planning and organizing.
  3. Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) symptoms include memory loss, trouble thinking, sleep disturbance, visual hallucinations, muscle rigidity or other parkinsonian movement features.
  4. Mixed Dementia symptoms include characteristics of multiple types of dementia, like Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
  5. Parkinson’s disease symptoms include difficulty with movement and symptoms similar to dementia with Lewy bodies.
  6. Frontotemporal dementia symptoms include changes in personality and behavior and difficulty with language.
  7. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occurs in cattle and can be transmitted to humans. Symptoms include impaired memory and coordination and behavioral changes.
  8. Normal pressure hydrocephalus symptoms include problems with walking, loss of memory and uncontrollable urination.
  9. Huntington’s Disease symptoms include irritability, depression and other mood changes, abnormal involuntary movements, and a severe decline in the ability to think and reason.
  10. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a chronic disorder that creates severe memory loss and is caused by severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1) and alcohol abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor so that you can effectively diagnose and treat the problem. There are no specific tests to diagnose dementia, but your doctor will consider your medical history, physical examinations, laboratory tests, and the characteristics associated with each type of dementia in the diagnosis.


Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works