Changes in the Aging Brain: Dementia Basics

Know the four types, learn the common symptoms

A man talking to his doctorAs we age, our bodies and brains are always changing. We may not be able to hear as well or see as far as we did in the past, but what about when we begin to not remember as much or think as clearly?

You may have heard of Alzheimer's disease as one form of dementia. But did you know that there are four main types of dementia? Understanding dementia and your brain may help you identify common symptoms that you can discuss with your health care team.

Dementia Basics

When it becomes hard to remember, reason, or communicate, it may be because of a group of brain conditions called dementia. Years ago, dementia was often thought to be a normal part of aging. We now know that it's not normal. It's caused by ongoing damage to cells in the brain.

Symptoms differ depending on which parts of the brain are affected, and the stage of the disease. The most common symptoms include:

  • Memory loss, like trouble with directions and familiar tasks

  • Language problems, such as trouble getting words out or understanding what is said

  • Difficulty with planning, organizing, and judgment. This includes not recognizing symptoms

  • Changes in behavior and personality

Types of dementia

Dementia has many types. In some cases, the main causes can be treated. In other cases, dementia is part of how the disease progresses. Some of the most common types and of dementia are:

  • Alzheimer's disease: This is a series of changes to the brain's nerve cells that happens most commonly in older adults. It's the most common cause of dementia in older adults

  • Vascular Dementia: A stroke or series of strokes can cause brain damage that leads to dementia

  • Lewy Body Dementia: Abnormal proteins called Lewy bodies can build up in the brain and cause damage. The related diseases are called dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson's disease dementia

  • Frontotemporal Degeneration: This type of dementia happens when there is damage to the frontal and temporal lobes. The related diseases are called Pick's disease, corticobasal degeneration, and primary progressive aphasia

Keep in mind that there are sometimes other causes. Low levels of vitamins B1 or B12, thyroid problems, and problems with blood sugar, calcium, or sodium levels in the body can cause symptoms of dementia. Many of these causes can be treated, and the symptoms of dementia can get better.

Talk to your doctor

It's common to forget or lose things sometimes, but if you're finding that your memory loss is getting in the way of your everyday life, you should discuss that with your health care team. Consider writing down problems when they happen and using Secure Messaging to describe any signs of dementia to your doctor. Your provider may run exams and tests to determine if changes in your memory and thinking are due to a type of dementia, normal aging, or another problem.

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Read More

Understanding Dementia (Veterans Health Library)

Recognizing Memory Problems

Myths and Facts About Dementia (Veterans Health Library)

What is Dementia? (Alzheimer's Association)

Updated November 1, 2021