Understanding Dementia with The Views Senior Living

Given that November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month there is no better time to share some facts we should all be aware of such as; Dementia is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States; an estimated 77% of all dementias are Alzheimer’s; someone is diagnosed in America every 72 seconds with Alzheimer’s; and with current projections, that number will increase to every 33 seconds by 2050, due to our aging population.

There are several types of dementia including, Lewy Body Disease, Parkinson’s’ Disease, Multi-infarct (vascular) Dementia, Pick’s Disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, Huntington’s Disease, AIDS Dementia Complex, and Frontotemporal Dementia; these types, along with Alzheimer’s fall under the umbrella of dementia.

Most types of dementia progress slowly with subtle and vague symptoms, which contributes to failure in recognizing during early stages of the disease. Most often it’s those that are closest to the person with dementia and would be the first to notice cognitive changes. Ironically, these are the same people that might be likely to compensate for cognitive deficiencies by finishing sentences for the loved one or making excuses for a forgotten birthday, appointment, etc.

As the Baby Boomer population ages, dementia cases will be on the rise. While many people associate aging with forgetfulness, there are clear differences between a normal aging mind and one afflicted with dementia. A normal aging brain may forget part of an experience, while a brain dealing with dementia will forget the entire experience. A normal brain will be able to follow verbal and written instructions, while dementia reduces the ability to comprehend simple instructions as the disease progresses. Knowing the warning signs and getting an early diagnosis may slow the progression.

There are other diseases, such as depression, diabetes, or thyroid disorders that share some of the same symptoms as dementia, the only way to be sure of the diagnosis is to be screened. A medical evaluation for dementia may include an assessment of clinical features, including review of history or onset of symptoms, medical history along with medication list, mental status testing (cognitive or neuropsychological testing), laboratory tests to rule out vitamin deficiencies or metabolic conditions, neurological testing and brain imaging. While there is no cure for dementia, early detection is key in our ability to properly care for and treat those who suffer from the disease.

Dementia is a scary disease, there is still so much unknown about how the brain works, what causes the disease and how best to treat it. There is good news on prevention though, according to Dennis Fortier, MA, MBA, author of the Brain Today blog:

There are well-identified risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease that are within our power to manage. These include diabetes, head injuries, smoking, poor diet, lethargy, and isolation. With greater awareness of these facts, we can imagine a world where diabetics take more care to control their blood sugar, where helmets are more prevalent in recreational activities that are likely to cause head trauma, where people smoke less and eat more fruits and vegetables, and where everyone makes a better effort to exercise and to stay socially engaged on a regular basis. While these facts may not be well known, they are all well proven. Galvanizing an effort to publicize them is one purpose of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Please be aware that many risk factors for Alzheimer’s can be actively managed to reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline.

If you care for someone with dementia, there are some things that can make it easier. First, stick to a routine and schedule high activity tasks like bathing or doctor appointments during the hours when they are most alert. Take your time, expect things to take longer than they used to and work that extra time into their routine. Allow the person to be as independent as possible, giving them simple tasks such as setting the table will help them feel as though they are involved and contributing. Provide simple instruction and minimize distractions such as the television or radio when communicating, this will allow them to more fully focus on what you are saying.

Dementia is an awful disease, it ravishes both mind and body. But there are things we can proactively do to prevent the disease or slow its progression. The key is in understanding as much as we can and following the advice of the latest research.


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