Alzheimer's Dementia - Vasculor, Lewy Body - Symptoms
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia but there are other illnesses which cause very similar dementia type symptoms and can often stand in the way of an accurate diagnosis.
It’s important to remember that dementia itself is not actually a disease. The word basically means “mental deterioration” and it involves a whole gambit of symptoms that go hand in hand with a physical illness. In fact, Alzheimer’s is just one of several diseases which cause these symptoms.
Problems with mental function and the loss of memory, language or speech control can be symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, Pick’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, vascular dementia, Huntington’s disease or Lewy body dementia.
Other Diseases Leading to Alzheimer's Dementia Symptoms
In the case of Parkinson’s disease, people may develop dementia as their condition deteriorates. Medication can improve the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s (such as shaking or stiffness in the joints) but unfortunately it can’t solve any mental deterioration.
Pick’s disease is a very rare form of dementia in which areas of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain contain abnormal bodies (Pick’s bodies) which affect nerve cells causing problems in language, motor skills and memory. Pick’s can be inherited but it’s usually diagnosed through the symptoms and various tests. It’s usually apparent at a much earlier age than Alzheimer’s.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease hit the headlines when it was dubbed “mad cow disease” because it was thought that it could be caught from eating infected beef. It’s a very rare fatal disease which brings on rapid progressive dementia and can affect anyone of any age. Initial symptoms include memory problems, lack of co-ordination and changes in the way a person behaves. Although diagnosis is made through symptoms and ruling out other causes, a definitive diagnosis can only be made when the brain is examined after death.
Vascular dementia is caused when the brain deteriorates thanks to a series of small strokes which block the blood supply to important areas of the brain. It’s usually caused by heart disease or high blood pressure and although the damage isn’t reversible medication can be given to control the underlying problem and prevent the destruction from going further. Vascular dementia can be diagnosed through brain scans.
Huntington’s disease is a genetic condition which causes physical and mental deterioration in the brain, usually when a person hits middle age. Behavioral changes, lack of judgment, problems with speech and memory are all common symptoms. Huntington’s is a terminal illness and there is currently no treatment to stop its progression.
Lewy body dementia produces very similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s. It is caused by abnormal protein deposits in the brain. Eventually a person will develop severe problems communicating and understanding what is going on around them. Paranoia and hallucinations are quite common even in the early stages of the illness. There is currently no treatment available.
There are many other illnesses which cause dementia type symptoms – most of which can either be cured or controlled with medical treatment. They include depression, infections such as HIV or meningitis, head injuries, brain tumors, thyroid problems, alcoholism and a reaction to certain medications.
It’s important that a doctor rules out all other possible explanations before making a diagnosis if Alzheimer’s.