Your Definitive Guide to Dementia

Dementia SymptomsYou may feel a wide range of emotions after your loved one is diagnosed with dementia—anger, shock, and perhaps even relief as there’s finally an explanation for their behavior.

So what do you do now? Well here’s one of the best things you can do right now to make a difference:

Get educated about dementia to make better and more informed care decisions for your loved one.

Today you will learn about a wide range of dementia topics and tips that you can use right away.

For instance:

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia aren’t the same thing?

It’s possible for your loved one to have dementia and not Alzheimer’s.

While dementia and Alzheimer’s disease share similarities in their symptoms, others may be more specific to your loved one’s condition.

Learn more in our definitive guide to dementia by reading on!

Chapter 1: Progressive Dementia

Progressive dementia is an irreversible cluster of symptoms caused by damage to the brain’s cells. It is the gradual loss of important mental functions such as being able to reason and remember.

These types of dementia are not reversible:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Frontotemporal Dementia
  • Mixed Dementia
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
  • Huntington’s Disease

Unfortunately, the exact cause of dementia is still unknown.

Dementia GuideAlzheimer’s Disease

It is thought that Alzheimer’s disease is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Just imagine all of the things you do every day that you take for granted.

These activities of daily life or activities of daily living (ADLs) include activities such as driving yourself to the mall to do some regular shopping, cooking dinner, or even something as simple as dressing yourself in the morning before you head out to work.

Alzheimer’s disease gradually impairs your loved one’s cognitive functions causing them to lose control over their ADLs.

You can also expect your loved one’s behavior to change over time as the disease progresses.

There are three main stages of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Early Stage
  2. Middle Stage
  3. Late Stage

Each stage introduces more symptoms and as it is a progressive disease, current symptoms will worsen over time.

Vascular Dementia

When someone suffers from a stroke, chronic high blood pressure, an infection of a heart valve, or reduced blood flow to the brain they may develop vascular dementia—the second most common cause of dementia in older people.

Essentially, our brain requires a steady flow of blood carrying oxygen and nutrients for it to function properly, and these medical conditions can reduce the blood flow to such a point that it has lasting effects on the brain.

It’s possible to lower the chances of being affected by vascular dementia by reducing or remedying these risk factors:

  • Diabetes (Type 2)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Smoking
  • High Cholesterol

Vascular Dementia is most common in seniors aged 60 to 75 years old.

Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)

Like other dementia conditions, Lewy Body Dementia becomes more common with age and affects around 10% of the population.

LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. People may experience symptoms that are similar to Parkinson’s disease as well as visual hallucinations.

So what causes this type of Dementia?  An abnormal buildup of protein deposits in the brain cause disruptions and are known as Lewy bodies.

Parkinson’s Disease

In its later stages, your loved one with Parkinson’s Disease can develop symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease or LBD. A buildup of protein in the brain can cause clumps to form and are thought to affect nerve cells that produce dopamine.

Parkinson’s disease is primarily characterized by hand tremors and impairment of one’s manner of walking and muscle rigidity.

It is said that 50 to 80% with Parkinson’s disease can experience dementia.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Nerve cell damage in the frontal lobes of the brain causes frontotemporal dementia. It is also known as Pick’s disease as it was first discovered by Arnold Pick in 1892.

There are several different types of frontotemporal dementia that you should know:

Behavior variant frontotemporal dementia is special in that it can develop in individuals as early as their 20’s or as late as their 80’s. Your loved one can experience major changes in their personality and difficulty in managing interpersonal relationships.

Primary progressive aphasia is the second major form of frontotemporal dementia. It affects the person’s language skills—speaking, writing, and comprehension.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) causes muscle weakness and disrupts motor functions in the body. It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. While ALS affects movement, cognitive and behavioral impairment can occur as well.

Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia is when there is more than one cause of dementia that happens in the brain at the same time. Most commonly, individuals can be affected by both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia—along with LBD.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)

CJD occurs when the prion protein found in your loved one’s body abnormally changes its shape causing it to be misfolded. It is also a quickly progressing type of dementia, where symptoms get worse rapidly—unlike other conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and LBD that can take years.

There are several different variations of CJD that you should know:

  • Sporadic CJD
  • Familial CJD
  • Acquired CJD

Sporadic CJD happens spontaneously as its name suggests and comprises 85% of reported cases.

Familial CJD is when the affected person inherits their CJD gene from either of their parents. This is less common and reports for only 10 to 15% of cases.

Acquired CJD can be caused by medical instruments in neurosurgery that have not been sterilized properly or contracted from infected cattle products with mad cow disease.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

As fluid starts building up in your loved one’s brain ventricles, it can cause them to get enlarged and damage nearby brain tissue. NPH affects older adults in their 60’s and 70’s.

Symptoms include: difficulty walking, cognitive decline, and loss of bladder control.

An MRI can help doctors see if your loved one has enlargement of their brain ventricles. They can also perform a spinal tap that will drain fluid. If no improvements are made during the 30 to 60 minute observation period after the procedure, NPH can be the culprit. Generally, symptoms do not improve in those who have NPH following a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) removal test.

Huntington’s Disease

With this disease, a defective chromosome causes your loved one’s brain to produce huntingtin proteins. This protein will gradually start to damage brain cells and cause cognitive impairment and in addition possibly depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder. Physically, your loved one may also experience difficulty in handwriting and tremors.

Huntington’s Disease is hereditary and can be passed down from one generation to the next. It is a dominant gene so the child inheriting it from the parent has a 50% chance of developing the disease.

Chapter 2: Reversible Dementia

While there are no cures for progressive dementia like Alzheimer’s disease, in some instances, dementia-like symptoms can be reversible – which brings us to the Reversible Dementia section. Let’s learn more!

There are three main causes of reversible dementia:

  1. Hypothyroidism
  2. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
  3. Neurosyphilis

Other causes that can induce dementia-like symptoms in your loved one include head trauma due to falls, infections, heart disease, and even environmental toxins.

Hypothyroidism

The thyroid’s job in the body is to control a person’s metabolism, surprisingly if the thyroid is malfunctioning it can cause cognitive impairment. Symptoms can be either short-term or long lasting. Getting treatment as soon as possible increases the likelihood of reversing the effects of dementia-like symptoms from hypothyroidism.

Depending on the level of hormone deficiency, your loved one may experience different symptoms. Most times hypothyroidism will consist of a combination of symptoms and the severity of them can vary as well.

If left untreated, hypothyroidism progresses and severe depression or heart failure can occur.

Vitamin B12 DeficiencyVitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is unique in that your body doesn’t naturally produce it so its main source is from animal-based foods or supplements. The amount your loved one needs depends on their age, diet, medications, and conditions.

The most common cause of Vitamin B12 deficiency is through heavy drinking.

It may be possible for symptoms to improve after increasing your loved one’s Vitamin B12 levels.

Neurosyphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease and gives off the appearance of a harmless bump on the skin. It can be contracted through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Usually, it is easy to cure with the right antibiotics.

However, when syphilis goes untreated for years, it can affect the brain spinal cord. Many aspects of cognitive behavior will be impaired like holding onto memories and experiencing confusion.

Penicillin is administered via injection or taken orally to treat the bacterial infection.

How well your loved one does with neurosyphilis depends on the severity of their condition before treating for it.

Chapter 3: Dementia Symptoms

Dementia symptoms can greatly vary, but at least two of these conditions must be affected:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgement
  • Visual perception

Early Signs of Dementia

Just because your loved one is having trouble with remembering things doesn’t mean they have dementia. However, short term memory loss is an early sign to look out for. While they can remember things from the past, remembering what they had to eat that day can be a struggle.

Mood changes can also be apparent such as depression—and affect the way your loved one socializes with others and their daily life. Changes in your loved one’s personality can be easy to spot.

Confusion is common during the early stages of dementia and may arise when your loved one misplaces everyday objects or has trouble remembering familiar faces. Solving simple math problems or balancing their checkbook is a common task many with dementia have trouble with.

You can expect repetition and difficulty to follow instructions as well.

Do You Suspect Your Loved One Has Dementia?

Don’t wait! Schedule an appointment with their doctor immediately. Your loved one’s primary care physician may refer you to other doctors who specialize in treating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

By catching the symptoms early, they will have greater chances of maintaining their independence for a much longer period of time.

Holding HandsChapter 4: Dementia Tips Every Caregiver Should Know

Caring for someone with dementia will pose many communication and behavioral challenges for the caregiver to overcome. If your loved one is affected by a progressive dementia like Alzheimer’s disease, their cognitive abilities are going to worsen—which further increases the level of difficulty in providing them with the best care possible.

Knowing how to respond and react to different situations can seriously take a load off your shoulders.

Are you having trouble with effectively communicating what you want to say to your loved one?

Difficult behavior may happen as a result of poor communication.

Try out these 10 easy to follow caregiver tips for dementia:

1. Use the KISS principle

KISS emphasizes the importance of keeping it simple!

In 1960, the United States Navy discovered that their systems worked best when they were designed to be simple rather than complicated. A team of designers for the latest in stealth aircraft technology of the time were tasked with creating an intuitive system that could be easily repaired by an average mechanic in combat situations.

We can apply this same principle to your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.

Remember:

They are affected by a cognitively degenerative disease that impairs their thinking and their behaviors.

Instead of asking open ended questions or giving your loved one too many choices, try this:

Ask one question at a time and keep it short—those with yes or no answers will work best.

If you’re having trouble getting your loved one to do something, you can break down a complicated action into a series of smaller, but easier to understand steps.

2. Limit distractions to keep their attention

Take a quick look around your loved one.

Are there any distractions present?

Extra environmental stimuli like blaring radios and television sets can be disorientating. You may want to consider outside visual distractions as well by shutting any doors and blinds (depending on the environment in which you live as sunlight can be very good for people with Alzheimer’s disease).

If you and your loved one are in a place where distractions are unavoidable, moving to a quieter setting can help keep their attention better.

Other tactics for grabbing their focus is to address your loved one directly by name and utilize nonverbal cues along with the message that you’re trying to convey to them.

3. Patience is a virtue

Let’s get this out of the way first:

You’re going to get frustrated, angry, and upset many times throughout your caregiver journey.

It’s completely normal to feel that way.

Caregiving is stressful.

However, it’s still important for you to place yourself in your loved one’s shoes to empathize with them better.

Consider the tone of your voice and your nonverbal cues. Depending on how you phrase certain things, it may have a positive or negative effect.

Think about why they may be difficult with you:

  • Are their basic physical needs such as food and water being met?
  • Are you and your loved one in a loud environment that is causing them confusion?
  • Are they struggling to find the right word to say?
  • Do they need to use the bathroom?

Listen carefully and see if there are any underlying feelings to what your loved one is saying.

4. Accept and acknowledge that there are things you can’t change

As the saying goes, there’s no use crying over spilled milk. You’re going to have to accept and acknowledge that your loved one is affected by dementia. The person you once knew is going to change—and unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done.

However, coming to terms with their condition can ease the level of stress you may feel.

It can help change your thinking from wondering how you’re going to get through the day to thinking about how to best spend the time you have left with your loved one.

Do you want to cherish your last memories or remember them being full of regret instead?

5. Don’t lose your sense of humor

Susan Hamburger, of the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area says that “humor is a coping mechanism that is important not simply as a diversion, but rather an essential requirement for preserving our mental and physical health.”

She continues by saying “humor in almost any form can spontaneously relieve fear, anxiety, anger and depression.”

You can find things to laugh at in order to see your situation in a new and refreshing way.

While it’s not possible for you to never get stressed out or angry, here are some things Susan says to keep in mind:

  • Anger gets you into trouble because it makes your mouth move faster than your brain
  • Will anything bad happen right now if you do something silly?
  • Every time you give someone a piece of your mind, you make your head a little emptier.
  • You are generally measured by the size of the things that make you mad.
  • Have you ever noticed that firemen never fight fire with fire?
  • Anger is a wind that blows out the lamp of your mind.
  • Angry caregivers are seldom reasonable; reasonable caregivers get angry, but they know how to control their feelings.

Other research shows laughter can also “reduce pain, improve blood vessel function, release chemicals that relax muscles and produce feelings of pleasure, and stimulate the body’s immune system”.

In one particular study, 82% of the cancer patients used humor as a way to cope with their current situation.

6. Explore new creative outlets

Not only does every family caregiver need a break from their responsibilities every once in awhile, finding a new creative outlet or hobby can help your loved one too.

Finding a fun activity for both of you to do can keep your mind off having to worry about caregiving and enjoy the time spent with your loved one.

Did you know that people with dementia can clearly recall memories from years in their distant past?

It can help to choose something that they previously had an interest in before developing dementia.

A case study reports that “emotion and cognition have a relationship that can be clearly seen in the recall of nostalgic memories.” It also mentions the possible therapeutic effects of combining reminiscence with counseling skills.

If your loved one is mobile and doesn’t yet require any personal care assistance, a creative outlet like gardening can keep them moving on their feet.

7. Check for senior home safety

If your loved one is receiving care at home, it’s essential to ensure that they can live there safely.

Here are some affordable essentials that you should consider installing for your loved one with dementia:

  • Door alarms that ring out whenever the door is opened to alert you that your loved one is wandering
  • Door knob covers to make it harder for your loved one to wander out of their home by requiring them to twist the knob in a special way to open
  • Stove knob covers to prevent your loved one from tampering with its controls
  • Baby monitors to monitor your loved one when they are in their room
  • Bed alarms to detect movement for seniors who are at risk of falling
  • Smoke detectors with carbon monoxide monitoring connected to phone center
  • Non slip mats to prevent falls in the bathroom

You can also make sure that hallways are free of clutter and that stairs have a stable support railing.

8. Get yourself organized to be ready for any health scare

Did you know that more than one in three people 65 years or older fall each year?

Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury and death rates have been steadily increasing since 2013.

You can be one phone call away from having to drive out to the hospital.

Before any health scare, it helps to be organized in case of an emergency.

Check to see if their medical history is up to date along with any important legal documents like advanced directives and do-not-resuscitate forms.

There are also many free senior resources that may be available for your loved one—if they are eligible.

9. Learn coping strategies to manage caregiver stress

Find something that works for you during bouts of stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s absolutely normal for you to go through these emotions when caring for your loved one

However, it’s important that you find a coping strategy that is positive and healthy.

For example:

Eating all that pizza and ice cream might make you feel better at the time, but overall, it’s not going to be an effective long term solution for whenever you get stressed out about your loved one. You’ll quickly pack on the pounds and see that the lack of energy is negatively affecting your ability to be a caregiver.

A new hobby can be a great way to cope with the difficulties of caregiving.

You can also think about the triggers behind your negative feelings and behaviors. Are you feeling anxious or depressed? What thoughts did you have leading up to it?

10.  Maintain your social life to have a reliable support group

Did you know that social isolation can kill more often than obesity?

It’s been reported that being lonely impairs immune functions and boosts inflammation which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease.

Unfortunately, caring for your loved one with dementia can cause you to cut off interaction with close friends.

Maintaining a life outside caregiving is just as important as caregiving itself.

Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia caregivers report higher levels of stress.

Being lonely can also trigger a downward spiral as you lose control over your impulses and engage in social evasion.

Try contacting old acquaintances to build new friendships!

Does Your Loved One with Dementia Need Help?

Senior Home Care Services takes the time to understand your loved one’s personality and care needs to provide them with the perfect caregiver. Speak with a member of our care team for your free phone consultation today!

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