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Health Tip

Dealing With Dementia

As we get older, it’s not uncommon to notice one’s mental abilities aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be. Often, losing recent memory is the first sign of brain change from illness or injury, and may also be the first sign of dementia. It is not uncommon for the person to be unaware of his or her mental decline.

Dementia is not a disease, but a series of symptoms that affect the parts of the brain controlling memory, learning, decision-making and speech. It’s important to remember to check with your doctor if you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Dementia can be linked to a variety of diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s, and treatments are available to relieve some of the symptoms. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

The symptoms of mild dementia are:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events.
  • Mood swings, anger or depression.
  • Getting lost easily or being confused about one’s location.
  • Using poor judgment and making wrong decisions.
  • Difficulty working with numbers and money.
  • Speaking more slowly than normal.
  • Avoiding new and unfamiliar situations.
  • Delayed reactions and slower learning abilities.
  • Neglect of personal grooming, such as bathing and shaving.

Someone with moderate dementia: 

  • Doesn’t recognize family and close friends.
  • Has difficulty getting dressed.
  • Can’t find the right words when speaking, or fills in the blanks with stories.
  • Has difficulty reading, writing and working with numbers.
  • Can’t organize thoughts or think logically.
  • Is easily upset and often reacts with hostility or refuses to cooperate.
  • Becomes restless and wanders, especially in the late afternoon and at night (sundowning).
  • Loses ability to measure time.
  • Becomes delusional, suspicious or agitated.
  • Needs constant supervision.

As dementia progresses, symptoms become more severe. Eventually the person:

  • Cannot remember how to do basic functions, such as going to the bathroom or bathing.
  • Has forgotten how to move.
  • Can no longer speak.
  • Cannot chew or swallow food or liquids.
  • Has difficulty balancing and falls frequently.
  • Becomes incontinent (loses bowel and bladder control).

Taking Care

If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, there are multiple things you can do that may be helpful.

  • Use labels, sticky notes and lists to help with memory loss.
  • Create a simple daily schedule that includes tasks or activities at times when the person is best able to handle.
  • Write the schedule for daily activities on a calendar or day planner, and place it in plain view, along with a clock.
  • Simplify chores to match abilities; for instance, she/he can’t operate the controls of the washing machine or dryer, but she/he can sort and fold clothes.
  • Keep a safe home by tacking down rugs, installing handrails and using non-slip tape in the bathtub/shower; put safety switches on stoves and appliances that may be dangerous if not turned off.
  • Stay active and involved in the groups and activities you enjoy most.
  • If sleep is a problem, avoid daytime naps and get regular exercise; herbal teas or warm milk at bedtime may also help.
  • Eat a balanced diet with whole grains, fruits and vegetables every day; keep heathy snacks for midmorning or afternoon hunger.
  • Plan ahead by reviewing all financial and legal documents, such as your will, living will and power of attorney, while personal judgment remains clear. 

As the disease progresses and the symptoms increase in severity, your loved one will require more and more attention and care. Those in the late stages of dementia need 24-hour a day supervision and care, and the best option for most families is placement in a care facility specializing in dementia care.

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