Dementia is the medical term used to describe the decline of reasoning, memory and other a mental abilities of individuals. These usually impair a person’s ability to do everyday activities such as driving, household chores and even personal care such as feeding and bathing. Dementia is most common in elderly and used to be called senility. Dementia was also considered to be a normal part of aging, which we now know is not true.
Researchers know that dementia is caused by a number of underlying medical conditions that can occur in both the elderly and young person. In some cases, dementia can be reversed with proper medical treatment especially when the cause is reversible. In other cases however, it is permanent and will usually get worse over time.
People with dementia eventually become totally dependent on others for their daily care suffering a loss of short and long term memory. They will also show a decline in all areas of intellectual functioning which includes their ability to use language and numbers appropriately and an awareness of what is going on around them.
Although many older people fear that they are developing dementia because they may not be able to find their eyeglasses or have a short-term memory loss about some persons name, these are very common problems that are often due to a much less serious condition. Medical professionals call this condition age-related memory loss. Although this is a nuisance it doesn’t impair the persons ability to learn new information, solve problems or carry out every day activities.
Individuals who suffer from dementia will have problems with all of these things.
It’s important to seek out medical care for a friend or relative if they exhibit marked loss of short-term memory, significant behavior or personality changes, inappropriate behavior, depression or marked mood swings, persistent word find problems, persistent poor judgment or the inability to manage personal finances. Only with the diagnosis and treatment recommendations of a person’s primary care physician can their individual circumstances be addressed appropriately.
Caring for an individual with dementia will require a degree of flexibility and the ability to increase the amount of care given as time goes on. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and requires complete home care. Statistics show that more than seven out of 10 who have Alzheimer’s disease live at home with about 75 percent of their home care provided by the family.
There is no specific recipe to follow in caring for those who have dementia. It is important to remember to treat them like a person, to be patient, kind and to consider their feelings. Although their behavior and personality change drastically as their disease progresses they continue to be the same person family members once loved and who once cared for children.
By focusing on the individual’s remaining abilities and helping them to create ways to compensate for their declining abilities caregivers are able to improve the quality of life of individuals who suffer from dementia. Individuals with dementia will often keep social skills and a sense of humor and may continue to enjoy socializing and interacting with others.
One of the most important factors to remember is that each individual will experience their dementia in a way that is specific to their situation. It is important for caregivers to anticipate what that individual may need while at the same time allowing them as the much independence as is safely possible.
Remember that short-term memory will be very debilitated and individuals may have forgotten what they were told to do two minutes prior. This means if they are helping in baking or cooking it’s important that a person is assigned to ensure the safety of that adults.
People with dementia will have long-term memories of songs or childhood events that may contrast starkly with their inability to remember what happened just a few minutes ago. They have the greatest degree of difficulty with activities that require concentration and may react negatively to situations which require immediate change.
Caregivers should be prepared to deal with those individuals who become agitated either with their environment or with themselves because they cannot sort things out properly or clearly understand what is being asked of them. It’s important to remember that those with dementia should never be asked to test their memory with games to see if they remember where they are or someone’s name. This is not only cruel but also a trigger for them to become agitated.
Safety issues are also crucial to the care of an individual with dementia. Both the home and the yard should be clean so that it is easy to move around and the risk of injuries reduced. Adequate lighting throughout the home should be available so that individuals whose sight may be failing will be able to adequately see.
Try to avoid unnecessary mirrors in the home because they change the depth perception in the room and because as their disease progresses the individual may forget what they look like. So, when they look in the mirror and see their own reflection they may become frightened, believing that someone else is present.
Caring for a person with dementia is difficult, but it is an important task for family members.
American Family Physician: Behavior Problems in a Family member with Dementia
Family Caregivers Alliance: Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia
University of Pittsburgh School of Health Services: Caring for a Family Member with Dementia