What is Dementia? What are the symptoms?
Dementia is a gradual decline of mental ability that affects your intellectual and social skills to the point where daily life becomes difficult. Dementia can affect your memory and your decision-making ability, can impair your judgment and make you feel disoriented, and it may also affect your personality. It is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse as more brain cells become damaged and eventually die.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects about 5% of people over age 65. It occurs more often with advancing age, affecting 20% to 25% of people over the age of 80. About 5% to 10% of dementia is vascular dementia, also known as dementia caused by stroke. At least 10% of cases of dementia are due to a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and multiple strokes.
Memory Loss Isn’t Necessarily Dementia
If a loved one is experiencing some troubling memory problems, you might immediately conclude that it’s dementia. However, a person needs to have at least two types of impairment that are significant enough to interfere with everyday life to be considered a dementia diagnosis.
Dementia is more than just memory loss. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia include:
- memory loss, especially problems with memory for recent events, such as forgetting messages, remembering routes or names, and asking questions repetitively
- increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require organisation and planning
- becoming confused in unfamiliar environments
- difficulty finding the right words
- difficulty with numbers and/or handling money in shops
- changes in personality and mood
Dementia Care Techniques
Researchers, doctors, and eldercare professionals are still discovering and refining what works and what doesn’t when it comes to dementia care. A lot of different techniques and strategies have been tried, some with more success than others, but clinicians have found that there are some principles and practices of dementia care that can and do work more often than not. For example:
- Encourage and maintain independence for as long as possible –Studies have found that a technique called “graded assistance,” combined with daily practice and positive reinforcement can go a long way to maintaining functional independence. Graded assistance is a method of helping someone accomplish a task with the least amount of aid possible, using a spectrum of assistance from verbal prompts to physical demonstration, physical guidance, partial physical assistance and complete physical assistance.
- Music can be very effective– Studies have shown that music soothes and can help reduce problem behaviors, such as agitation and aggression (especially during mealtimes and bathing). However, it’s important to note that the music should be something that the person with dementia prefers, not necessarily what the caregiver thinks would be nice to listen to. Playing your loved one’s favorite types of music is typically the most effective form of dementia therapy.
- Pet therapy, lighting manipulation and group therapies can be effective –These therapies concentrate on cognitive skills and/or social activities that have been tried to varying degrees of success.1
The following information is adapted from Caregiver Guide: Tips for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s Disease, published by the National Institute of Aging (NIA).2 Although it was originally written specifically for Alzheimer’s care, much of the information is applicable to other types of dementia care, and we have included it here for your reference and information. Remember to consult with your doctor about what is appropriate to your loved one’s condition before following any advice or recommendation.
Global Love Care provides loving and personalized dementia and Alzheimers care in Calgary homes.