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What are the Different Types of Dementia?

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In the United States, between 5 and 8 percent of people over age 65 have a type of dementia, with an estimated 50 percent of people 85 or over having dementia, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The term “dementia” encompasses a group of symptoms, such as changes in thinking, personality and behavior. The types of dementia can be classified based on where in the brain the damage occurs or how the dementia occurred. Examples of these classifications of dementia include primary dementia, secondary dementia, cortical dementia, subcortical dementia and progressive dementia.

Primary Dementia: With primary dementia, the patient does not have the symptoms as a result of another disease. An example of a primary dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 50 to 70 percent of dementia cases, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Secondary Dementia: If a patient has secondary dementia, then the dementia resulted from an injury or another disease. Several different issues can lead to secondary dementia, such as brain infections, progressive supranuclear palsy and multiple sclerosis. While many types of dementia are degenerative, meaning the damage cannot be reversed, some types of secondary dementia can be stopped or reversed. However, this depends on the cause being identified soon.

MedlinePlus noted that reversible causes of dementia include low levels of vitamin B-12, brain tumors, chronic alcohol abuse, changes in calcium or sodium levels, or the use of certain medications. If the cause is a medication, patients should talk to their doctors before discontinuing the medication on their own.

Cortical Dementia: If a patient has cortical dementia, the area of the brain damaged is the brain’s cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. This type of dementia can result in memory impairment and aphasia, a language disorder in which the patient may have trouble understanding language or producing coherent speech. Examples of cortical dementias include Alzheimer’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Subcortical Dementia: With a subcortical dementia, the damage occurs to areas of the brain under the cortex. This can result in issues with movement, emotion and memory.

Progressive Dementia: Progressive dementias become worse over time, with patients losing more of their abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is an example. Other examples of progressive dementias are Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia.

MayoClinic.com stated that about 20 percent of patients with dementia have Lewy body dementia, in which they have abnormal protein clumps in the brain, called Lewy bodies. The symptoms of Lewy body dementia are similar to those found in Alzheimer’s disease, but unique symptoms include visual hallucinations, tremors, rigidity, fluctuating between lucidity and confusion, and REM sleep behavior disorder.

Vascular dementia is the second most common dementia, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This type of dementia results from damage to the brain from strokes, endocarditis or amyloid angiopathy.

Frontotemporal dementia, also called frontal lobe dementia, results from degeneration of the nerve cells located in the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain. Patients with frontotemporal dementia may have language problems, issues with concentration and social inappropriate behaviors.


Cleveland Clinic. Types of Dementia. Web. 5 September 2011

MedlinePlus. Dementia. Web. 5 September 2011

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dementia: Hope Through Research. Web. 5 September 2011

MayoClinic.com Dementia. Web. 5 September 2011

Reviewed September 5, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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