Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. But there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.
- Other conditions that can cause dementia include:
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Traumatic head injury
- Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
- Alcohol abuse
- Degenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s disease and Pick’s disease
- Brain abscess
- Multiple sclerosis
- More than 50 other rare degenerative conditions
People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood.
Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse.
- One’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years after age 65, and by age 85, there is approximately a 50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, doctors conduct tests to assess memory impairment and other thinking skills, judge functional abilities, and identify behavior changes. They also perform a series of tests to rule out other possible causes of impairment. An accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is an important first step to ensure you have appropriate treatment, care, family education and plans for the future.
- Those living with Alzheimer’s disease must have the best and post specialized care possible to ensure the most positive outcomes.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Symptom Management
Managing behavioral symptoms
Alzheimer’s disease is best known as a memory disorder. However, behavioral and psychiatric symptoms may also occur. Many, but not all, individuals with Alzheimer’s will develop them.
Early in the disease, people may experience irritability, anxiety or depression.
Later in the disease, people may develop:
- Agitation (verbal or physical outbursts, general emotional distress, restlessness, pacing, shredding paper or tissues)
- Sleep disturbances
Many people with Alzheimer’s and their families find behavioral symptoms the most challenging and distressing aspects of the disease. These symptoms are often a determining factor in residential care placement. They also have an enormous impact on quality of life for individuals in long-term care. Unicity Eldercare partners with reliable Alzheimer’s specialists in the area in order to help our clients manage these behavioral symptoms.
Evaluation of Alzheimer’s behavioral symptoms
The chief cause of behavioral symptoms is the progressive loss of brain cells. Other issues, including various medical conditions and environmental influences, may also play contributing roles. Some of these secondary issues may be correctible. Anyone experiencing behavioral symptoms should receive a thorough medical evaluation. With proper intervention, patients’ symptoms can often be reduced or stabilized.
There are two major types of treatment for behavioral symptoms:
- Nondrug strategies
- Prescription medications
Nondrug strategies should always be tried first. Steps to developing successful non-drug treatments include:
- Recognizing that the person is not just “acting mean or ornery,” but is having further symptoms of the disease
- Identifying the cause and how the symptom may relate to the experience of the person with Alzheimer’s
- Changing the environment to resolve challenges and obstacles to comfort, security and ease of mind
Coping tips for Caregivers while working with their loved ones with dementia
- Monitor personal comfort. Check for pain, hunger, thirst, constipation, full bladder, fatigue, infections and skin irritation. Maintain a comfortable room temperature.
- Avoid being confrontational or arguing about facts. For example, if a person expresses a wish to go visit a parent who died years ago, don’t point out that the parent is dead. Instead, say, “Your mother is a wonderful person. I would like to see her too.”
- Redirect the person’s attention. Try to remain flexible, patient and supportive by responding to the emotion, not the behavior.
- Create a calm environment. Avoid noise, glare, insecure space and too much background distraction, including television.
- Allow adequate rest between stimulating events.
- Provide a security object.
- Acknowledge requests, and respond to them.
- Look for reasons behind each behavior. Consult a physician to identify any causes related to medications or illness.
- Explore various solutions.
- Don’t take the behavior personally, and share your experiences with others.
Sources: Unicity, Alzheimer’s Association & Harvard Health Publications