Understanding Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe physiological changes in the brain that cause memory loss and interference with daily living activities. For most, dementia results in noticible changes in personality and behaviour. The three areas of the brain that are affected by dementia are language, memory, and decision-making. Dementia cannot be stopped or reversed, however, healthy lifestyle changes and CFIA-approved drugs can help temporarily slow symptoms but cannot slow its progression. Here are a few types of dementia, their causes, signs, and symptoms.


1. Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s society of Canada, 1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by brain cell death as your loved ones may experience mood changes, confusion, personality changes, and experience difficulty with speaking, and walking.
  • Early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
  1. Memory loss disrupting their daily life
  2. Difficulty planning or solving problems
  3. Challenged completing simple, daily tasks
  4. Trouble judging distance, visual images, and spatial relationships
  5. Inability to retrace steps and misplacing things
  6. Trouble with words either in speaking or writing
  7. Poor judgment
  8. Personality and mood changes
  9. Withdrawal from their social life or work
  10. Confusion with time or place

2. Mixed Dementia

  • Mixed dementia is used to describe a situation where a person has more than one type of dementia. This type of dementia is very common and is most often accompanied by Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Symptoms of mixed dementia very from person to person. Commonly, symptoms may present the same as Alzheimer’s and is sometimes indistinguishable. Lewy body is the second most common coexisting type of dementia.

3. Lewy Body

  • Lewy body dementia is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s. Lewy body dementia is characterized by protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, that develop in nerve cells in the brain regions responsible for movement, memory, and thinking.
  • Signs and symptoms of Lewy body dementia include:
  1. Visual hallucinations – these may be among the first symptoms to appear. Auditory, olfactory, and tactile hallucinations are also possible.
  2. Difficulty sleeping
  3. Apathy
  4. Depression
  5. Dizziness, falls, & bowel issues – these bodily functions are regulated by the part of the nervous system that is affected by Lewy body

4. Vascular Dementia

  • Vascular dementia is used a general term to describe difficulty with planning, reasoning, judgement, memory, and other thought processes. This difficulty is due to brain damage caused by impaired blood flow to the brain. Vascular dementia can occur after a stroke as the stoke blocks an artery in the brain. Factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and high cholesterol can increase you loved ones risk of a stroke – and raise the risk of vascular dementia. This type of dementia can occur suddenly or can progress gradually, similar to Alzheimer’s.
  • Signs and symptoms of vascular dementia include:
  1. Problems with memory
  2. Restlessness
  3. Agitation
  4. Unsteady gait
  5. Depression
  6. Sudden or frequent urination
  7. Difficulty analyzing situations and communicating plans

5. Parkinson’s Disease

  • It is common for people living with advanced Parkinson’s disease to develop dementia. This type of dementia can cause people to become irritable, depressed, or paranoid as it progresses. If your loved one develops this type of dementia they may experience confusing or even frightening hallucinations. Early signs include difficulty with reasoning and planning.
  • Early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:
  1. Stooped posture
  2. Tremors, especially in the fingers, hands, or feet
  3. Uncontrollable movements during sleep
  4. Limb stiffness
  5. Voice changes
  6. Rigid facial expressions

6. Frontotemporal Dementia

  • Also known as “Pick’s disease,” frontotemporal dementia is used to describe a cluster of dementia that all have one thing in common – they affect the front and side parts of the brain, these areas control behaviour and language.
  • This type of dementia can cause loss of motivation and inhibitions and compulsive behaviours. It is also common for people to forget the meaning of common words. Frontotemporal dementia can occur in people as young as 45 years old.

7. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

  • Commonly knows as Wernicke’s disease, this type of brain disorder is caused by a deficiency in the vitamin B thiamine. This results in an inadequate supply of energy to the brain and to neural pathways involved in memory functions.
  • It is technically not a type of dementia but its symptoms are similar to dementia. Most commonly, the vitamin B deficiency is due to alcoholism.


If your loved one develops dementia it is useful to know the type in order to understand what they are experiencing and how you can help.