Dementia is a scary and disheartening disease for those suffering from it and for the loved ones who have to watch their family member experience it. Understanding mixed dementia can be difficult. A person can feel overwhelmed by the abundance of information available. We will help you better understand and address important topics about what you should know regarding dementia.
Mixed dementia occurs when a person suffers from more than one type of dementia. The most common form of mixed dementia is Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Another form of mixed dementia is Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies. Mixed dementia occurs more frequently than previously realized. It is estimated that one in every ten individuals with dementia has more than one type. Dementia should not be confused with cognitive decline; cognitive decline refers to deficits in cognitive abilities that do not interfere with daily living. Dementia is a term for cognitive decline; however, the decline in cognitive functioning does interfere with daily living.
The signs of dementia vary from person to person and depend on the type of dementia the individual suffers. However, the symptoms of the two most common are as follows
Protein buildup around brain cells, particularly the brain cells that help with memory formation, is the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often thought of as the same condition; however, there is a difference. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia; a person can have dementia and not have Alzheimer’s, but a person with Alzheimer’s has dementia. Dementia is a term that covers a wide range of symptoms involving a decline in cognitive ability; it is not a specific disease.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s often worsen over time and can include but are not limited to:
- Memory recall difficulties
- Language deficits
- Personality change
- Social withdrawal and self-isolation
- Difficulties with problem-solving
Vascular dementia is caused by a constriction of the blood supply throughout the brain. This constriction of blood flow often occurs following a stroke which blocks major blood vessels in the brain. Cognitive alterations can begin as mild changes and worsen gradually due to multiple minor strokes or other disorders affecting the brain’s smaller blood vessels, leading to more severe cognitive deficits. Symptoms are generally most profound quickly following a major stroke and may include but are not limited to:
- Impaired planning and judgment
- Uncontrollable laughter and crying
- Decline in the ability to focus and pay attention
- Impaired function in social situations
- Minor language difficulties
- Language deficits such as difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Motor difficulties such as walking
- Paralysis or numbness often confined to one side of the face or body
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia, the second most common neurodegenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s, refers to the progressive decline in cognitive functioning. The results of LBD are permanent loss of intellectual and functional capacities. Like Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body is caused by specific protein buildup within the neurons in the areas of the brain pertaining to motor control and memory.
The difference between Lewy body and Alzheimer’s is what abilities they affect. Alzheimer’s is related to the inability to store new information, such as memories. Lewy body targets abilities such as problem-solving and reasoning. Like Alzheimer’s, symptoms can be mild in the early stages and progress parallel to the disease.
- Changes in attention and alertness
- Visual hallucinations
- Motor symptoms
o Slow movements
o Difficulty walking
o Tremors or shaking
o Loss of coordination
Types of Dementia
While the forms of dementia covered are the most common types of dementia, they are not the only types of dementia. Some other forms of dementia include:
- Dementia from Parkinson’s disease and other similar disorders
- Frontotemporal dementia (Pick’s disease)
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
The stages of dementia refer to the progression of the disease ranging in severity from no impairment to very severe decline. In most cases, the individual suffering from dementia will progress through these stages, how long the progression takes depends on the individual.
- No impairment. At this stage, there are no observable signs of a problem, but tests may reveal some concerns.
- Very mild decline. Slight behavior changes may be observed, but independence is still intact.
- Mild decline. More noticeable changes in thinking and reasoning can be observed, such as repetition in speech, impairment in short-term memory recall, and difficulties making plans.
- Moderate decline. More prominent impairment in short-term memory recall and plan making. Traveling and handling money may become challenging.
- Moderately severe decline. Remembering their phone number and the names of family members may be unattainable. Day-to-day function is impaired, and they will need support with activities of daily living, such as picking out clothes. Confusion will be more pronounced; they may become confused about the day of the week or the time of day.
- Severe decline. Short-term as well as long-term memory are severely impaired. Greater support for daily living activities will be required, such as assistance using the bathroom and eating. Prominent changes in personality and emotion are common.
- Very severe decline. They are no longer able to express their thoughts and feelings. Fine and gross motor skills are severely impaired; they may be unable to walk anymore and spend most of their time in bed.
Is dementia hereditary?
Most dementia cases are not inherited. There are many factors in the development of dementia. Dementia is not considered hereditary, but certain genes can make dementia more or less likely to occur. Individuals who possess genes considered risk factor genes are only at a slightly increased risk of developing dementia than that of the average population.
Caring for a loved one with any form of dementia is distressing and demanding for both you and them. You and your loved one may feel lost and helpless and have trouble deciding what to do next. However, accepting a dementia diagnosis and the steps that follow does not have to leave you and your loved one mournful and full of sorrow.
It is important to try to stay positive. If you are dealing with the reality of a dementia diagnosis, some steps you can take to make this new reality less burdensome are:
- Create a dementia care plan
- Communicate with those around you
- Research and consider a variety of dementia treatment options and therapies
- Join a support group
- Explore and discuss memory care options
Whatever your next steps may be, take them together as a team. The support and care you give your loved one with dementia can promote a good quality of life while trying to accept a scary and uncertain new reality. In addition, encouraging your loved one to participate in their care planning can help them feel like they have some control and improve their moral and mental health.
Alzheimer’s Society. (2018). What is mixed dementia? https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/what-is-mixed-dementia
Alzheimer’s Association (n.d.).Vascular Dementia. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/types-of-dementia/vascular-dementia
Haven Health. (2022). What is cognitive decline? https://www.havenhealthaz.com/blog/what-is-cognitive-decline/
Haven Health. (2022). Early signs of Alzheimer’s. (https://www.havenhealthaz.com/blog/first-signs-of-alzheimers/
American Brain Foundation. (n.d.). Lewy Body Dementia. https://www.americanbrainfoundation.org/diseases/lewy-body-dementia/