A person with mixed dementia has abnormalities that are simultaneously linked to more than one form of dementia. Healthcare professionals also refer to mixed dementia as “Dementia – multifactorial.” Mixed dementia often shares characteristics of Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and other forms of dementia including dementia with Lewy bodies.
Symptoms can vary widely from person to person depending on the types of dementia associated with the disorder, the areas of the brain affected by the dementia types and the changes in the brain caused by those dementias. The most common combination of dementia types is Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, but other combinations exist as well.
Brain changes associated with mixed dementia can only be evaluated during an autopsy. In the most common form of mixed dementia, abnormal protein deposits (often associated with Alzheimer’s) occur simultaneously with the blood vessel problems linked to vascular dementia. At other times, changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease coexist with dementia with Lewy bodies. Sometimes all three dementia types are present.
Because of overlap in symptoms, medical professionals are unsure just how many people actually have mixed dementia, but autopsy results appear to suggest the condition is more common than previously realized.
Controlling risk factors that affect the heart and blood vessels is the best way to control the risk factors associated with mixed dementia. These include but are not limited to:
It’s also prudent to avail yourself of mentally stimulating and socially engaging activities.
In a Memory and Aging Project study, long-term cognitive assessments were utilized in life and followed up with a subsequent autopsy of the brain after death. The following was discovered:
This study and others are generating a growing understanding of mixed dementia. Their findings suggest that vascular changes are the most common coexisting brain change, creating an opportunity to reduce the number of individuals who develop mixed dementia by controlling the risk factors for diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
Although a mixed dementia diagnosis is rare, many researchers and scientists feel it should be given more attention since a combination of dementia-related brain changes may have a greater impact on the brain than one type alone. This can be difficult, however, since diagnosis of mixed dementia can only be confirmed through an autopsy of the brain. Most people who are found to have mixed dementia (through autopsy) are often diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as the primary cause, which shouldn’t be surprising since Alzheimer’s is the most common source of dementia.
Currently, there are no approved medications to treat mixed dementia. Most people are diagnosed with only one form of dementia and subsequently treated for that dementia.
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