|Helena S. Mock, Esq.|
Most people confuse dementia with Alzheimer's Disease. Although Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, it is not the only one. There are actually four different types of dementia: Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, and Normal Pressure Hydrocephalous. However, just because a loved one is experiencing some memory loss doesn't mean he has dementia. Some memory loss is common with age. Dementia, however, is caused by damage to the brain cells which can occur from any number of things, such as a traumatic brain injury, head trauma, stroke, or disease, just to name a few.
Identifying the type of dementia will help determine the best care and treatment going forward. Here are some of the warning signs to look for.
1. With Alzheimer’s, the individual will have difficulty remembering recent conversations, names, or events. He will often also suffer from apathy or depression. And, as the disease progresses, his ability to communicate becomes increasingly impaired. Over time, the individual will also develop difficulty walking, speaking, and swallowing (which may eventually lead to death because of the inability to eat).
2. With Vascular Dementia, the individual will have difficulty making decisions, planning, and organizing. Judgment will also be impaired. Unlike Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia doesn’t necessarily involve memory loss; it is more about loss of judgment and manifests itself in poor decision-making. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and normally occurs after a stroke.
3. With Frontotemporal Dementia, there is nerve cell loss in the temporal lobe. It is most recognizable by a change in personality and/or behavior. Some also experience an inability to remember simple language functions, and there may be changes in muscle memory or motor function as well. An individual suffering from frontotemporal dementia might behave erratically or anger easily. She also may “overreact” to small issues or minor inconveniences.
4. With Normal Pressure Hydrocephalous, the person will have difficulty walking and balancing because it is caused by a build-up of fluid in the brain. There is usually a decline in thinking skills or processing information and often loss of bladder control. Caught early, this type of dementia may be reversible, or it may be possible to at least relieve some of the symptoms. The symptoms are often confused with Alzheimer’s, though, so it is important to seek medical attention early.
One in three seniors will experience some form of dementia prior to death. Diagnosis of the proper type of dementia is key to proper treatment, which, in many cases, can slow the progression of the disease. A diagnosis of any type of dementia is a warning sign which indicates that the window of opportunity for long-term care planning will be closing. It is time to meet with your estate planning or elder law attorney to ensure your estate plan, especially your medical and property powers of attorney, are up to date and to discuss options available to protect assets against the costs of long-term care. After incompetency, your options are far more limited and become more complicated and costly.