As you may expect, mixed dementia is a condition that creates abnormalities that are consistent with more than one type of dementia. In its most common form, individuals display the protein deposits that are consistent with Alzheimer’s, along with blood vessel issues associated with vascular dementia. How does this type of dementia develop and how can it be managed? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Mixed Dementia?
As mentioned, mixed dementia is when hallmarks of more than one dementia are present. As these various symptoms interact, cognitive decline continually worsens. Although individuals most commonly display symptoms of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, but other combinations are also possible.
In some cases, individuals may experience changes linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and vascular dementia. As you can imagine, this creates a range of symptoms which can actually increase their intensity. Since symptoms are so varied, the true prevalence of mixed dementia is difficult to determine.
Symptoms of Mixed Dementia
Depending on the areas affected in the brain, symptoms will vary. In many cases, individuals may display symptoms that are similar to Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, symptoms may also suggest that another form of dementia is present. Based on the possibility of symptoms, mixed dementia is probably more common than first believed.
The clearest way to know is through brain autopsies. Once examined, individuals often show that they were suffering from mixed dementia, yet were only diagnosed with a specific form of dementia during their life. In most cases, the key diagnosis is Alzheimer’s.
Within the Memory and Aging Project, 94 percent of individuals with dementia were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After studying these brains in a brain autopsy, it was found that 54 percent suffered from a coexisting condition. Evidence of vascular disease was the most common, followed by Lewy body abnormalities. Mixed dementia may develop gradually or rapidly, yielding symptoms such as:
- Lack of concentration
- Poor mood
- Difficulty communicating
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty problem-solving
- Having delusions or hallucinations
- Physical weakness
What Causes Mixed Dementia?
Unfortunately, mixed dementia is not frequently diagnosed during one’s life. Researchers believed that this area needs greater attention because the combination of two dementia-related conditions is more than likely causing a greater impact.
Like other forms of dementia, mixed dementia isn’t fully understood. With that being said, changes in the brain will involve the markers of other conditions, such as blocked blood vessels or damaged brain tissue. In turn, these effects are based on more than one form of dementia, leading to a decline in brain cell and chemical functioning.
How to Treat Mixed Dementia
For those who are diagnosed with mixed dementia in their lifetime, there’s little doctors can do to reverse symptoms or delay progression. Treatment plans are created in order to make symptoms more manageable and to improve one’s quality of life.
There aren’t currently any drugs approved to treat mixed dementia specifically, however, medications such as galantamine and rivastigmine have yielded modest benefits in treating mixed dementia. There are specific treatment and medical options, depending on one’s case. As each individual is unique, patients need to work with their doctor to create a treatment plan that makes sense for them and their needs.
To avoid symptoms associated with vascular dementia, it’s recommended that you take preventative measures, reducing risk factors associated with poor blood vessel and heart health. Researchers also suggest diet, cholesterol levels, exercise, diabetes, smoking, alcohol abuse, and cardiovascular disease all increase your risk. Make positive lifestyle choices to reduce your risk.
Mixed Dementia and Alzheimer’s
In most cases, dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing. You can develop a form of dementia which is completely independent of Alzheimer’s. With mixed dementia, however, most individuals are believed to suffer from Alzheimer’s and at least one another condition.
In cases where the majority of symptoms are linked to Alzheimer’s, mixed dementia doesn’t technically differ from Alzheimer’s, it simply involves other symptoms of other dementia conditions as well. An individual may suffer from both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, but only be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within their lifetime.
Langa KM, Foster NL, Larson EB. (2004). Mixed Dementia: Emerging Concepts and Therapeutic Implications. Journal of the American Medical Association. 292(23):2901-8. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15598922.
National Institute on Aging. (2013). About Alzheimer’s Disease: Other Dementias. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/topics/other-dementias