Dementia affects millions of people worldwide on a daily basis. It not only disrupts the life of the individuals afflicted with this terrible disease, but also impacts their families and loved ones, who are often left with a sense of helplessness. Many may feel at a loss as they watch the one they love struggle to perform various everyday activities due to a decline in mental ability.
While dementia definitely has a serious impact on a family, it is important to understand that dementia is progressive but not the end of a quality life. Even with dementia, living a fulfilling life is never a lost cause. Over the years we’ve learned a few helpful tips we’d like to share for those families affected by dementia.
The first step to leading a quality life with the presence of dementia is to understand what dementia actually is. Dementia is defined as the “umbrella term for loss of cognitive functioning, serious enough to interfere with daily functioning.” It is not a normal part of aging. Describing dementia as the “umbrella term” means that it covers many different types of mental impairment. A set of unique causes and symptoms classifies each of the different types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease constitutes the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia diagnoses.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive degenerative disease that attacks the brain, resulting in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. Thus social interactions and problem-solving abilities can be affected. Problems with judgment and decision making become apparent. Early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are characterized by short-term memory loss, confusion, and inability to perform routine tasks such as driving a car or balancing a checkbook. Later on, the ability to recognize family members or familiar surroundings may be affected.
Early Detection Is Key
Early detection or diagnosis is important for improving a person’s quality of life; their physical, emotional, and financial health can be greatly impacted by this disease. Early detection can allow these problems to be minimized or better managed. Currently, less than 50% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias have their diagnoses documented in a medical record. Early detection and documentation allow for a better plan of treatment to improve or maintain quality of life.
Dementia Warning Signs
Regardless of what type of dementia someone may have, there are many warning signs to consider, such as:
- confusion with time or place (for example, not knowing what year it is)
- difficulty completing familiar tasks (for example, operating a stove)
- challenges in planning or problem solving (for example, paying bills)
- trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships (for example, using stairs)
- memory changes that disrupt daily life (for example, not recognizing a relative or friend)
- changes in mood and personality (for example, becoming easily upset or unusually fearful)
- withdrawal from work or social activities
- decreased or poor judgment (for example, failure to groom or keep clean)
- misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace their steps to find them (for example, putting car keys in the fridge)
- problems with words in speaking or writing (for example, repeating the same question every few minutes)
Interacting with Individuals with Dementia
We’ve found a few helpful tips that will make it easier for you and your impacted loved one to interact. If you remember these each time you interact with your loved one, you may have a more positive outcome.
- Always identify yourself. Even if you’re a family member or close friend, be sure to identify yourself, so the person can more easily recall you.
- Make good eye contact.
- Calling the person by name reinforces a personal connection.
- Give your loved one time to respond. People with dementia may need extra time to think and process their thoughts.
- Resist the impulse to criticize or correct.
- Avoid arguing. Always try to keep the conversation peaceful even if your loved one is agitated.
If you follow these suggestions, both you and your loved one will have an easier and more pleasant interaction.
Lastly, we want to stress the simple fact that having a form of dementia does not mean a person’s value is diminished. It’s important that both you and your loved one are aware that hope is not lost. With positivity and compassion, a quality life can still be achieved while coping with the difficulties of dementia.