Can You Have More than One Type of Dementia?

Oct 24, 2022 | Signs, Symptoms and Science of Dementia

It is a common misconception that dementia is a single disease. The fact is that dementia is not a disease by itself. Instead, dementia is a collective term that describes multiple symptoms that considerably interfere with daily life and activities.

Dementia can be brought on through specific diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, or through other physical maladies and cognitive-damaging medical emergencies, such as multiple strokes. An individual can also be diagnosed with more than one type of dementia.

What is Mixed Dementia?

Mixed dementia is a term that describes a diagnosis of more than one type of dementia occurring simultaneously in a person. Research indicates that dementia patients older than 85 years of age are more likely to have mixed dementia. The combination of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia is the most common form of mixed dementia.

In light of our world’s aging population, and the subsequent increase in dementia cases, it is still relatively less common for an individual to be diagnosed with mixed dementia versus a single form of the condition. The causes of mixed dementia are not fully known and are still being researched.

In some cases of mixed dementia, such as a patient who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time, only part of the cause is known. Alzheimer’s is caused by a build-up of faulty proteins in and around the brain, but the reason for the build-up has yet to be determined. It is suggested that it could be a combination of age-related changes, genetics, the environment, and lifestyle choices. Vascular dementia is caused by issues with the supply of blood throughout the brain, and the cause is often linked to health conditions with a higher risk of strokes, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Symptoms of Mixed Dementia

The symptoms of mixed dementia vary depending upon the types of dementia that a person has.

Even though dementia symptoms differ from case to case, the most common symptoms of impaired mental function include memory loss, communication difficulties, inability to focus and pay attention, poor reasoning and judgment, and changes in visual perception.

Related: Learn more about the Causes and Symptoms of Dementia

With mixed dementia, diagnosis is typically made based on brain scans (MRIs), which show the type of brain changes that have occurred, and which brain regions are affected, in combination with the symptoms that the patient shows. A loved one who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and who also has heart or vascular problems is at a higher risk for developing mixed dementia.

An example of this is an individual who displays symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as confusion or memory loss, but becomes unable to speak or communicate, which can indicate vascular problems (i.e., blood clots, damaged blood vessels) in the brain.

Treating Mixed Dementia

There are no medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for mixed dementia. Most patients are diagnosed with a single type of dementia, and physicians base treatment on the type of dementia that has been diagnosed. The treatment for specific conditions, such as heart or blood vessel diseases, helps to prevent strokes and heart attacks, which in turn can prevent further damage to the brain from vascular problems.

Overall improvement can occur when other underlying risk factors are addressed, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, heavy alcohol use, depression, diabetes, smoking, sleep apnea, and vitamin and nutritional deficiencies.

Some people living with mixed dementia show relief from symptoms when medications are subscribed that treat Alzheimer’s disease. Such medications may help to slow the progression of the disease and can reduce overall symptoms. Always ask the physician for alternative methods of treatment, such as clinical trials, or disease-modifying medications.

One such medication that is showing promise is aducanumab, which is a human antibody that may reduce amyloid plaques, which are the brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

We Are Here to Help

We know that it can feel overwhelming and worrisome when someone that we love is diagnosed with dementia. It can be frightening. We feel that families matter, and we want you to know that you are not alone in your struggles.

If you have questions, we can help! If you are in the Round Rock or North Austin, Texas area, reach out to us online and request an appointment or call 512-399-5080.