Causes & Symptoms of Mixed Dementia in the ElderlyArticle by Daniel Westhead
It’s not uncommon for older people to experience two or more long-term health conditions at the same time. For example, many elderly people might have both heart disease and arthritis, or both COPD and dementia.
But is it possible for an older person to have two kinds of dementia at the same time?
It is – and it’s known as mixed dementia.
If you have an elderly loved one who has been diagnosed with mixed dementia, you might be wondering how it’s different from having just one type of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. If so, we’re here to help. Read on to learn all about the causes and symptoms of mixed dementia.
What causes mixed dementia?
There is really no one condition called “dementia”. Rather, dementia is an umbrella term referring to an overall decrease in the mind’s ability to function. This means that the many types of dementia have differing causes.
For example, Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is caused by proteins that build up in the brain – although doctors don’t fully understand what makes these unusual proteins build up.
On the other hand, vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia, is caused by a lack of sufficient blood flow in the person’s brain. This can result from a stroke or can be connected to other problems related to blood vessels. Generally, vascular dementia is associated with heart disease and related factors like high blood pressure.
When an older person has mixed dementia, that just means that the causes of two types of dementia have both occurred in their body. The specific causes will depend on the types of dementia present.
That being said, the most common type of mixed dementia is mixed Alzheimer's and vascular dementia, as these two conditions often occur together. In fact, this combination of dementias is so common that some people just use “mixed dementia” to mean specifically mixed Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
It’s worth noting that, while doctors don’t fully understand the mechanisms that cause Alzheimer’s disease, it does seem that health factors that are dangerous for the heart – such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol – raise the risk of Alzheimer’s as well as of vascular dementia. That’s why eating a heart-healthy diet and taking other steps to keep one’s heart healthy are all the more important.
Another factor in developing mixed dementia is age – it’s most common among the oldest of the elderly. That’s partly because, after the age of 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years. Likewise, the older a person becomes, the higher the risk of many types of dementia becomes. It’s even possible for a person to have mixed dementia resulting from brain changes from three different types of dementia.
What are the symptoms of mixed dementia?
Since mixed dementia is technically any combination of two or more types of dementia, it can have many different symptoms. For older people with mixed Alzheimer's and vascular dementia, their symptoms may still vary considerably. Symptoms of both types are possible, but a person might have far more symptoms of one type of dementia than of the other.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
As with most types of dementias, Alzheimer’s disease symptoms change as the disease progresses. Early on, main symptoms include forgetfulness, confusion, anxiety and problems with judgement and decision-making. Later, an elderly person may experience delusions and hallucinations, difficulty speaking and difficulty with understanding the physical world around them. In the last stages of the condition, people may also struggle with fundamental tasks such as eating and going to the toilet.
Symptoms of vascular dementia
Vascular dementia does share some symptoms, like confusion, with Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are significant differences too. Forgetfulness and problems with speaking are not hallmarks of vascular dementia. Symptoms that are more typical of the condition relate to thinking rather than remembering. Older people with vascular dementia may have difficulties with focusing, organising, problem-solving and planning. Generally, their thought processes may just work more slowly.
Elderly people with vascular dementia may also have problems with balance and walking.
Symptoms of mixed dementia
So how do these symptoms combine in one person?
It very much varies depending on the individual. Some people might be diagnosed with just Alzheimer’s disease or just vascular dementia – it might not be clear to doctors that they actually have mixed dementia.
However, if a person has mixed dementia, the decline in their mental abilities may happen more rapidly. Family of older people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia should be alert to the possibility that their loved one may have or develop both types of dementia.
What can families do to help elderly people with mixed dementia?
It can be hard to know that a loved one has been diagnosed with mixed dementia. However, there are steps that families can take to help reduce risks and keep their elderly loved one as safe as possible.
When an older person is experiencing confusion and agitation due to mixed dementia, they may not be able to work out how to dial a phone to get help. This could be both frightening and dangerous for them.
That’s where one-touch personal alarms come in. These alarms call for help – either from family and friends or from a response centre – when the wearer touches just one simple button. This avoids the complicated process of using a phone. Forgetful people can wear this type of alarm in the form of a pendant, which is more difficult to lose. What’s more, a talking pendant alarm allows the wearer to speak to helpers directly through the alarm. This ensures that a confused and anxious older person can hear reassuring words right away, with no need to move closer to a speaker.
Automatic fall detection alarms
One aspect of vascular dementia is a loss of balance, which can cause an older person to fall. Middle- and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease also causes people to find their surroundings confusing – they may not be able to recognise a small step on the floor, for example.
These symptoms can mean that people with mixed dementia are at risk of falls. But elderly people who are unable to reach a phone from the floor, whose dementia is too advanced for them to use a phone, or who have struck their head in a fall and are unconscious will all be unable to call for help after a fall. They then face the risk of a “long lie”, which is an hour or more spent on the floor after a fall.
Automatic fall detection alarms can help. These devices call for help automatically when they sense that a wearer has fallen – there is no need for any input from the wearer at all. Families of people with mixed dementia can rest assured that if a fall happens at any time, help will be called immediately. And with 24/7 monitoring that directs calls to a response centre, that help will be available at any time of the day or night.
Caring for mixed dementia with SureSafe
As mixed dementia advances, an older person’s support needs will continue to increase. It’s best for family and friends to be prepared for cognitive decline before it comes. For example, an elderly person with mixed dementia may be able to dial a phone today, but they might lose that ability sooner than expected. An elderly personal alarm is an extra layer of protection that ensures an older person will never be without help if their symptoms of confusion, anxiety or balance worsen and cause a fall or problem.
At the same time, a personal alarm can be a backup for older people with more advanced mixed dementia who already have care support in place. Even if they live with family or have a carer, someone may not be with them at every moment. For example, an elderly person with dementia might get up during the night, move around, and fall. Personal alarms for the elderly provide extra peace of mind during the night and for moments when they aren’t directly in a carer’s sight.
To learn more about the many possibilities and dementia-helping functions available in our range of personal alarms, calls us at 0800 112 3201, get in touch with our live chat, or request a call back.