Right Diagnosis Right Doctor

To further complicate matters, symptom overlap exists among the different kinds dementia - and people can have mixed dementia.

If you suspect that you or a loved one might have signs of early dementia, make sure to see a specialist - such as a neurologist, geriatrician or geriatric psychiatrist - who can sort out symptoms, perform brain-imaging tests and mental status exams and reach the correct diagnosis.

Awareness has increased, Flanagan says, particularly in the past year or two. "I think a lot of doctors are picking up on it a lot quicker," she says. "Because we are getting Lewy body as a first diagnosis."

As dementia progresses, the burden on caregivers grows. "It's very difficult for one person to do 24/7," Flanagan says. "We try to get the caregivers to have a team, whether it's hired help, day programs, assisted living programs or family that comes into the home and helps." For all types of dementia, caregiver support groups reduce isolation and help people find others who know what they're going through.

"One of the core symptoms is fluctuation in cognition," Flanagan says. "If you're a having a lucid and a really good day with your husband, wife, father, daughter - whoever it is - grab those moments. Because they're going to come less and less often as the disease goes on. I had three daughters helping me, and that's pretty much what our goal was - to make every day the best we could."