What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term referring to a group of symptoms that can include memory loss, language difficulties, problem solving, and loss of social skills. Dementia symptoms are caused by abnormal brain function that impacts day-to-day cognitive ability.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other forms include Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal, and mixed dementia. Other medical conditions can cause dementia- like symptoms, so it is important to identify what is causing dementia symptoms. An important fact to remember is that dementia is not part of the normal aging process.
What are signs and symptoms of dementia?
While we all have moments of forgetfulness, friends and loved ones of dementia, patients will notice a drastic decline in the dementia patient’s ability to handle daily life. Because many dementia symptoms can also be indications of other issues, it is important to have your loved one examined by a physician.
Some signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- memory loss and confusion
- vocabulary loss
- mood swings and changes in disposition
- lack of reasoning and comprehension
- stooping and balance issues
- lack of self-care
- difficulty with numbers including paying bills, appointment scheduling, and directions
How is dementia diagnosed?
There is no one test that a physician can use to diagnose dementia. Doctors use a variety of information gathered from physical exams, memory evaluations, lab work, medical history, and information supplied by the family to reach a diagnosis. Further testing may be done to determine which type of dementia is present and how to proceed.
Treatment for dementia depends on its cause and stage. The progression of dementia can be slowed down by medications and other therapies but there is no cure. Some dementias can be caused by a specific medical condition and when those are addressed, cognitive decline can improve.
What are some lifestyle changes and home remedies for dementia?
While dementia symptoms will progressively worsen over time, there are lifestyle changes that caregivers can use to help their loved one.
- Establish regular exercise routines, especially walking. This can help with balance, coordination, and cardiovascular health. Walking has been shown to improve brain function in dementia patients.
- Keep a calendar. Having a place to see dates, appointments and when to take medications can help lessen confusion and manage doses.
- Modify the environment. Hide items that may cause injury such as sharp knives. Remove furniture and other things that might cause a fall. Provide nightlights and lighting to eliminate shadows and trip hazards. Label where items belong and when to use them.
- Encourage activities, especially things that your loved one has enjoyed doing in the past. For example, dancing, gardening, and painting can be fun, therapeutic, and create lasting memories that you will treasure.
- Develop daily routines and schedules that are predictable and calming, especially at night. Patients may show signs of restlessness or have behavior issues in the evening and creating a calm atmosphere can help lessen these symptoms.
Some people suggest using vitamins and other supplements. However, to date, there is not enough evidence to suggest that they are truly helpful. However, there is some evidence that eating foods rich in Vitamin E, such as fish, can be helpful.
Other helpful therapies include art, music, massage, and occupational. Art therapy focuses on the process of creativity rather than an expected product. Music therapy involves listening to soothing music or helping to engage in recall. Pet therapy involves using animals to alleviate stress and lift spirits. Occupational therapy can help with balance and managing at home.
Read our guide to caring for elderly and aging parents
When is it time for memory care?
Knowing when to consider a memory care facility can be challenging for families who are trying to respect their loved one’s wishes and take proper care of them. Dementia symptoms are often inconsistent, adding to the difficulty.
Of primary concern should be safety – for the person who needs care and for the people around them.
Ask yourself if the person can handle the expectations of daily living? Are there physical changes such as drastic weight loss? Medications not being managed? Missed appointments and bills? Neglected personal hygiene? A stooped posture? Not knowing directions or how to get home?
Next, consider the diagnosis of a physician. Acting on a diagnosis early can give the patient more say over what treatments and facilities they qualify for.
Caregiving for a loved one with dementia symptoms can mean giving care around the clock. Caregivers must be aware of their stress and the need for respite care. When caregivers are feeling overwhelmed, it is time to get help from licensed practitioners who can manage increased physical, medical, and cognitive needs.
Finally yet importantly, you will know when something is wrong, do not wait! Making these choices is never easy but there is no reason to make these decisions alone. Talk to family members, friends, and your loved one’s physician. They can help you develop a plan and find the right solution for your loved one’s dementia care.