What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe a specific collection of symptoms that affect brain functioning.
An individual suffering from Dementia has an inability to process information intellectually, severe enough to result in a loss of normal life functioning and inability to maintain relationships.
Dementia was once referred to as "senility" and considered a normal part of getting older. We know better now. While some age-related benign memory loss is normal, dementia is not normal.
Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.
Dementia is a severe condition and is the most common reason for an individual to be placed in a nursing home.
Symptoms of Dementia:
Symptoms of dementia vary wildly from person to person, as does the underlying cause.
Symptoms may go unnoticed for a long time before treatment is sought, but are classified into three stages: Early Dementia, Intermediate Dementia, and Severe Dementia.
- Loss of short term memory.
- Difficulty finding words.
- Forgetting names, losing things, missing appointments.
- Difficulty with familiar tasks, like driving or cooking.
- Decline in level of functioning but can follow routines.
- Uncharacteristic behavior.
- Personality changes.
- Mood swings.
- Poor judgment.
- Confusion; disorientation. May wander off.
- Worsening of Early Dementia Symptoms, with less ability to compensate.
- Disrupted sleep patterns.
- Requires help to perform everyday tasks.
- Unable to learn new information.
- Increasing disorientation even in a familiar area.
- Confabulation (believing the person has done things that they have not).
- Inability to pay attention.
- Abnormal moods.
- Worsening of symptoms of early and intermediate dementia.
- May be unable to walk without help.
- Impairment of movements like swallowing.
- Complete dependence upon others.
- Total loss of long and short-term memory.
- Complications due to other symptoms: malnutrition, bedsores, incontinence.
Causes of Dementia:
There are many different causes for dementia, but all forms of dementia are caused by dysfunction of the cerebral cortex. Some diseases damage the cortex directly, others disrupt subcortical areas that would otherwise regulate cortical function.
- Degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, Pick's, and Lewy Body Disease
- Vascular disorders caused by strokes
- Deficiencies in B12 or Folate
- Infections that affect the brain or spinal cord (such as those caused by AIDS)
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Certain types of hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid in the brain that can result from developmental abnormalities, infections, injury, or brain tumors
Alzheimer's accounts for 50-60% of all Dementia diagnoses. Approximately 5-8% of people above age 65 will suffer some degree of Dementia and as many as 50% of those older than 80 will have symptoms.
Dementia is not part of the aging process; however, it is more likely to occur in individuals who are suffering from conditions that affect the elderly.
Is Dementia Treatable?
Treatment of dementia aims to correct any reversible factors and slow down any irreversible causes of dementia. Because dementia is caused by a number of specific medical disorders, treatment is aimed at underlying conditions.
Doctors may use any of these strategies when working with a patient with dementia.
- Correcting Medication usage - adjusting dose, checking drug overuse, misuse, or eliminating the interactions caused by a drug regime.
- Treating depression - many patients with dementia experience depression. Treatment of depression may relieve some of the symptoms of dementia.
- Medications To Slow Progression of Dementia - Dementia (caused by conditions like Alzheimer's) symptoms may be slowed if caught in the early or intermediate stages by medications. Cholinesterase inhibitors have shown promise at slowing the progress of dementia, but they do not provide a cure. The damage to the brain is irreversible.
- Treating specific causes for dementia. As dementia can be cause by many medical disorders (high blood pressure, hydrocephalus, anemia, brain tumors, high cholesterol, heart disease, hormone imbalances) the underlying condition should be diagnosed and treated.
- Treating Symptoms and Complications of Dementia. Even if the underlying cause of dementia isn't treatable, some of the dementia symptoms may be treatable. Mood swings, psychosis, seizures, infections, dehydration, malnutrition, agitation, insomnia and injuries can often be successfully treated.
For Caregivers Of Those With Dementia:
Caring for a person with dementia can affect every aspect of your life. Caregiving can be extremely stressful. Different caregivers have different tolerances for the emotional and physical demands of caring for someone with dementia.
If a caregiver is given no help or relief, they can burn out, develop their OWN mental and physical issues, and will no longer be able to provide care.
If you are caring for an individual suffering from Dementia, try to be as patient and as understanding as possible. Showing frustration or impatience can further aggravate or startle the individual and increase confusion. It's best to foster a soothing and quiet environment to avoid conflict and displays of aggression.
Try to remember that no one chooses to suffer from this debilitating condition.
Support groups can be helpful for expressing some of the hardships, challenges and victories that accompany long-term care of a person with dementia in a non-judgmental atmosphere.
Skills building classes are helpful for caregivers to learn time management, ask for help, plan for the future, and remember to take care of themselves on top of the patient. Those who have attended skills classes have shown decreased incidences of depression and stress.
Related Resources on Band Back Together
Resources For Caregivers:
Family Caregiver Alliance: (800) 445-8106
Eldercare Locator Service: (800) 677-1116
National Alliance For Caregiving: non-profit coalition of national organizations focusing on issues of family caregiving. Not limited to caregivers of dementia, but the site is a wealth of information for caregivers.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders Dementia Information Page offers a comprehensive list of resources related to Dementia and the diseases that cause it.
Dementia Advocacy and Support Network International (DASNI) is a worldwide organization that provides information and services to help improve the qualify of life for those suffering from Dementia.
The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration is a research and support website focusing on the lesser known disorder called Frontotemporal Dementia.
Lewy Body Dementia Association offers research, education, and support to raise awareness for the under-diagnosed condition.