By Shari Harris, RPT, Publisher
Dementia is NOT a normal part of aging, however, it does affect around 50 million people worldwide, according to the WHO. Furthermore, up to nine percent of those affected are under the age of 65. Five to eight percent of people at age 65 have dementia, and the number doubles every five years above 65.
Many causes of dementia are not reversible. Irreversible causes include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, Vascular dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and AIDS-related dementia. Care for people with irreversible causes of dementia is focused on supporting and improving the lives of the person affected, their loved ones and their caregivers.
There are some reversible causes, however. Vitamin B-12 deficiencies, medication side effects, depression, thyroid or endocrine problems, infection, electrolyte problems, dehydration, delirium and other illnesses can sometimes cause dementia. Treatment of the underlying issue is the focus of care, and may result in symptoms improving or resolving completely.
Many people have known or currently know someone who suffers from moderate to severe dementia. The memory loss may result in repetitive questions, lack of recognition of loved ones, and loss of function, including speech, walking and self-care. The earlier stages of dementia are easier to miss and more complicated to manage without increasing the affected person’s level of frustration.
Some signs of early dementia may be as subtle as losing interest in hobbies and activities. A person may become unwilling to try new things or unable to adapt to change. Perhaps they have a little less sparkle. These changes may also be due to other things, like chronic pain or depression. It is often in hindsight that the correlation between these changes and dementia can be made.
Other early changes may include showing poor judgment and making poor decisions. Choices may be made that don’t fit the person’s personality. Handling money may become difficult. It may take more time to grasp complex ideas and take longer to complete routine jobs. Immediate memory may still be relatively intact. This is the person that scammers seek out.
More noticeable features may be blaming others for “stealing” lost items, forgetting details of recent events and repeating or losing the thread of conversation.
People with early dementia look “normal.” They have good social skills and don’t believe they need assistance. Many function quite normally in everyday activities. Problems may not be noticed until they are placed into an unfamiliar activity, or unless something out of the ordinary occurs.
The signs of dementia become much more evident as a person progresses into the middle stage. Wandering, forgetfulness and safety issues like leaving burners lit or taking medication incorrectly can occur. At this point, the person requires part- or full-time assistance with their care. That level of care increases throughout the progression through the middle stage and into the end stage of dementia.
To be supportive of a loved one with dementia:
- Be patient; give them extra time – in communicating, in completing a task, in making a decision.
- Preserve their dignity and respect; their illness should not rob them of these basic rights.
- Be WITH them instead of doing to or doing for them; see things from their perspective.
- Be present; give them your full attention and look them in the eye when talking. Give them control whenever possible.
- Pay attention to body language.
- Avoid arguing; listen and try to understand their frustrations.
If you are concerned you or a loved one may be showing signs of early dementia, contact a physician for an assessment. More tips and advice can be obtained through the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org/dementia.