Dementia as a disease
Dementia is a group of symptoms rather than a disease. It can affect how a person thinks and interacts with others and also affect the way a person functions. The two main causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. When affected, there are two areas of the brain, that can cause dementia. The Cortical Dementias and the Subcortical Dementias. Depending on which of these two areas are affected will depend on what systems are affected. People with Cortical Dementia might have severe memory loss and Aphasia. Subcortical Dementias might cause changes in the speed of thinking. Both parts of the brain might be affected by a series of small strokes.
Short term memory decline
Most people with dementia worldwide are cared for at home. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be emotionally and physically demanding and the responsibility can sometimes be overwhelming. Determining if the person has dementia is complicated. Dementia caused by Alzheimer’s usually begins slowly with a decline in short term memory. As this progresses people can lose the ability to take care of themselves. This is a permanent condition and may lead to depression.
Questions to ask
There is no single test in order to determine whether a person has dementia. One can ask basic questions e.g. what is your name, what day is it etc. A doctor will perform a thorough examination in order to rule out other conditions that mimic dementia.
People with dementia can become easily overwhelmed because the damage to the brain has limited their range of emotions. In order to help the caregiver needs to what causes strong negative reactions and try and avoid them. Noises can be problematic. A calm atmosphere can help. Be continuously reassuring. Letting the person know that you are around and available to assist.
It is important that the person is kept clean but has to be done in a very calm secure fashion. The temperature has to be warm enough. The person should feel that they have enough privacy and the clothing is simple and fits correctly.
People with dementia inevitably have issues sleeping properly. There are many reasons but the main issue is not knowing that it is night time and therefore bedtime. The issue with “sundowners” is common with this group. They might feel more agitated and irritated at the end of the day. It is good if the level of activity during the day can be maximized so they are naturally sleepy at bedtime. Caffeine and sugar should be limited in the afternoon.
Focus on memory
Since short term memory is what is affected most, try and focus and what they do remember. This will decrease confusion and frustration. Try different ways to stimulate the patient but don’t treat them like a child. They need help like a child but they are not children.
There are millions of people with dementia and even though it affects mainly older people it is not a normal part of the aging process. Around 25% of people over the age of 75 have some form of dementia and the number is expected to double in 20 years. Will there be enough caregivers available to help?