As we age, our bodies and minds go through major changes, and senior wellness can deteriorate. One of the most common changes among seniors is dementia, and many spouses and children of those affected choose to become part- or full-time caregivers to their loved ones, but some may be in need of long-term care.
What is dementia?
Dementia is defined as a general decline in mental ability that interrupts daily life. In severe cases, it can keep a person from performing basic functions. While dementia is not a specific disease – rather the general term for cognitive decline that can encompass many different symptoms – it is important to know and understand the associated risks to provide proper care.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer's disease. The second most common form is vascular dementia, which develops after a stroke.
Recognizing the symptoms of dementia – especially in the early stages – can help spouses and children of dementia patients find treatment and care right away. While most cases of dementia are irreversible, there are ways to treat Alzheimer's disease that can improve senior mental health and reduce some of the symptoms. Contrary to what one might think, dementia and Alzheimer's disease are not mental illnesses, though seniors can exhibit some similar symptoms as mental illness patients, including anxiety and agitation.
Not every person affected with dementia will have the same symptoms or react in the same way in day-to-day situations. However, some of the early signs may be similar. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Memory loss: If a person can't remember what they did earlier that day or whether they've already had their cup of coffee, it could signal dementia.
- Confusion: One of the biggest tell-tale signs of dementia is confusion with time or place. If a loved one suddenly doesn't know where they are or who you are, it's important to get to a health care provider.
- Planning and problem solving challenges: With cognitive diseases, people may have a hard time problem solving or creating a plan, including keeping track of bills.
- Daily tasks: If someone is suddenly having trouble working a microwave where they had no such troubles before, it could be dementia.
- Communication issues: Dementia patients often struggle to find the words to communicate their needs or express what they want to say. As a result, writing or communicating may become confusing and complicated.
Communicating effectively with a dementia patient
When a loved one starts exhibiting symptoms of dementia, something you might notice right away is a lack of communication or trouble with words. Sometimes, you may not understand what the person is trying to communicate or they don't seem to know and realize what you are saying to them. To help you better understand a person affected with dementia, here are a few communication tips:
- Recognize dementia: When communicating with a person affected by dementia, it's important to recognize that they may not have any control over their memory. Dementia can cause a person to act completely differently and they may have difficulty recognizing their loved ones.
- Don't confront anger with anger: In many cases, dementia patients become frustrated or angry, even lashing out at loved ones. This is usually a result of confusion or another environmental influence such as physical discomfort or an unfamiliar location. Seniors with dementia may be more prone to mood swings, but caregivers should not react aggressively. Instead, identify the cause of the anger, even if this is difficult to do. If the person with dementia is your spouse or parent, knowing them well can help you figure out what might be their trigger for aggression or anger. Instead of confronting the person, find the issue, but don't force the person to reason.
- Use names: When you're talking with your loved one with dementia, try to avoid using pronouns like "he" and "she," and use names instead. It will make the story more clear to the person during the conversation. Similarly, upon introducing yourself or saying a greeting, it's important to use names – both that of the person you're speaking with and your own name.
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