According to a nationally representative survey, dementia rates are decreasing. And although experts in the field remain cautiously optimistic, dementia remains a very real and challenging issue that millions of people and their families deal with on a daily basis. Currently, four million to five million Americans currently have dementia.
Dementia, which is different than Alzheimer’s but often used interchangeably, is caused by damage to the brain which can create problems with your memory and how well you are able to continue to think and execute plans. Alzheimer’s Disease a form of Dementia. Although Dementia gets worse over time, it varies person to person. Some people decompensate quickly while others can stay the same way for years. Chances of getting dementia rise as we age, but this doesn’t mean that every person will get it.
Some people simply have memory loss but not dementia.This is referred to as mild cognitive impairment – the middle between normal aging and dementia. There is an increased risk associated with dementia but not always.
Some of the main contributors to Dementia include: (and ones that cannot be treated from WebMD)
- Alzheimer’s Disease –
- Strokes and head injuries often referred to as Vascular Dementia
- Parkinsons Disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and frontotemporal dementia
Other Factors to consider:
- Depression. Dementia symptoms can mimic depression – meaning people who are depressed can often have memory problems.
- Underactive thyroid gland, deficiency of Vitamin B12 or fluid buildup in the brain, can often be treated and decrease the dementia.
- Multiple medications. The elderly are often taking several medications and the combination of these medications can cause symptoms that look like dementia. Don’t assume its dementia. Talk to the doctor about all the medications that you or a loved one is taking. This includes all medicines and all over the counter ones like herbs and vitamins. The synergistic combination of these can have a ‘dementia like’ effect on the brain.
Symptoms to look out for:
- Memory loss
- Trouble using or understanding words
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Doing routine things like planning, making lists and going shopping
With progression, a person may begin to act differently by striking out at others, becoming scared, clingy or childlike or forego personal hygiene – like brushing their teeth or bathing. They cannot take care of themselves. They may not know who they are or recognize their loved ones.
How is it Diagnosed?
A physician conducts a physical exam. Part of the exam includes a history of past and present illnesses, which is corroborated with family members. They will also test your memory and other mental skills by asking some simple questions like: the day and year, who the president is, repeat a series of words (usually 3) or draw a clock face. They would also look at medical tests that would help substantiate a cause of dementia that could be treated. For example, checking your thyroid, possibility of an infection, an MRI or CT scan, which could help your doctor locate a brain tumor.
Although there is no cure for dementia, some medications can slow the progression. Medication might also help with changes in emotions people with dementia often experience. Increasing socialization and counseling both for the individual and family, can also be of benefit. If a person had a stroke, recommendations for lifestyle changes are necessary. Making these changes can help prevent the onset of another stroke. Changes such as: healthy food choices, staying active (daily walks are great!), maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight, and not smoking. Often as we age, there is a greater likelihood of co-morbid (more than one) medical issues. People often have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol – to name but a few. Maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle is key!
How to Help
Helping a loved one experiencing dementia can be challenging and over time can cause caregiver stress. However, there are things you can do to keep your loved one safe at home and interact with them on a positive and often times fun way. Keeping them safe at home means putting handrails in bathrooms, hallways, and stairs to prevent falls. Handy gadgets for the elderly such as pill boxes, reminders, larger visual items also help. Playing board games and quizzes also helps engage them and creates a positive relationship.
This is also a time – before they get worse – to ensure they have a living will (this states the type of medical care he/she wants) and a durable power of attorney (let’s the person choose someone to be the health care agent who will make decisions after he/she no longer can.
There is no perfect answer or perfect solution helping someone who is experiencing dementia. However, love, support, and listening help. Taking a family and ‘we are in this together’ approach helps everyone in this type of situation.