The term ‘dementia’ describes a collection of symptoms, rather than a disease.

These symptoms can include memory loss, difficulties with language, or problem solving, and are a result of damage to the brain caused by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, or a stroke.

There are many different types of dementia, depending on what has caused the damage and what symptoms have arisen as a result. Different research studies may therefore look specifically at different types of dementia.

We will look at some of the most common dementia types below.

Alzheimer’s Disease

  • This is the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 500,000 people in the UK.
  • There is no single, definitive cause of Alzheimer’s. Its occurrence is likely to be due to a combination of age, risk genes, lifestyle, and overall health – amongst other factors.
  • Alzheimer’s can affect people very differently, but most will show signs of confusion, mood swings, and have difficulties with short-term memory.
  • The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are generally mild to start with, but get worse over time. How quickly dementia progresses varies greatly from person to person.
  • Although there is currently no cure, drug treatment can help with some of the day-to-day symptoms.

Vascular Dementia

  • This form of dementia is caused specifically by problems with blood supply to the brain, such as a stroke.
  • Diabetes, heart disease, uncontrolled high cholesterol and high blood pressure can also contribute to the onset of vascular dementia.
  • Vascular dementia symptoms can differ significantly from those of Alzheimer’s, and can include problems with thinking skills, changes in personality – like depression or apathy – and problems with movement.
  • Like all dementias, vascular dementia is a progressive condition but progress may occur in a ‘stepped’ way, with long periods when symptoms are stable and periods when symptoms rapidly get worse.
  • Vascular dementia affects around 150,000 people, in the UK and is the second most common type of dementia.
  • Drug treatment for Vascular dementia is not currently available – patients are instead encouraged to treat underlying issues that may have caused the problem, and to engage with rehabilitative support.

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) accounts for about 10-15% of cases of dementia.
  • There is still much to discover about the causes of DLB. There may be some genes that affect a person’s risk of developing the disease, and researchers are working hard to identify other possible risk factors.
  • The symptoms of DLB can be similar to those of Alzheimer’s, but can also include visual hallucinations, sleep disorders, and overall issues of attention. Parkinson’s disease-type symptoms such as slowed movements, muscle stiffness and tremors are also common.
  • Like all dementias, DLB is progressive and symptoms will worsen over time. Drug treatments for DLB are similar to those for Alzheimer’s disease, but given the complex and misunderstood nature of DLB, treatment can be difficult.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD, including Pick’s disease)

  • Frontotemporal dementia has many names, including FTD, frontal lobe dementia and Pick’s disease (named after the scientist who first observed the symptoms).
  • FTD is thought to account for less than 5% of all dementia cases but is the second most common cause of dementia in those under 65.
  • The term FTD covers several different conditions, including behavioural variant FTD (bvFTD), semantic dementia and progressive non-fluent aphasia.
  • The frontal and temporal lobes are damaged in FTD and these control behaviour, emotion, and language amongst other things.
  • Symptoms vary depending on the different areas of the lobes affected. As with other forms of dementia, symptoms are likely to get worse as the disease progresses.
  • There is currently no cure and the progression cannot be slowed. Treatments look to help with symptom management.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition in which someone has problems with their memory and thinking skills.
  • For someone with MCI, the decline in mental abilities is greater than in normal ageing, but symptoms are not severe enough to interfere significantly with daily life, and are not defined as dementia.
  • A person with MCI is more likely to develop dementia but not everyone who has MCI will do so.
  • It is currently not possible to predict which people with MCI will go on to develop dementia, but if this was possible it might mean that people could be offered a range of support earlier in the development of dementia.
  • Due to this increased risk of developing dementia, some researchers are looking for people with an MCI diagnosis to take part in their studies.
  • To understand more about MCI click here.

Rare dementia types

There are a number of other, rarer causes of dementia. You can find out more about these here.

If you are concerned about your memory or thinking skills, please visit your GP.