Dementia is a scary condition for everyone affected, both the patient themselves and their loved ones. It’s a condition that involves memory loss, and it can be very detrimental to the sufferer’s way of life, affecting everything from the ability to perform daily tasks to their overall living condition. Early detection is key to getting sufficient treatment to slow the progression of dementia. Read on to find out important information about the condition, how it affects the daily life of seniors suffering from it, and what you can do to help someone you know with dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is not actually a disease itself. It’s an umbrella term for any condition or disease that causes a decline in memory or cognitive ability to a point that it affects the daily life of the person.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, encompassing about 60-80% of dementia cases. It’s also the most common cause of dementia in people 65 and older.
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, and this usually occurs after a stroke or other type of brain damage, which in turn leads to gradual cognitive failure.
Another type of dementia is called frontotemporal dementia, which affects behavior, personality, and often involves difficulty with language and decline in speech patterns. All of these types of dementia involve some sort of memory loss, which then affects other aspects of the person’s life and makes their quality of life decline over time, especially if the condition worsens.
What Are The Symptoms?
The most common symptom of dementia is memory loss or memory issues, but there are many other tell-tale signs as well. These include poor judgment or reasoning skills, communication problems, inability to focus or pay attention, or even a decline in visual perception abilities.
The good news is that not all memory loss issues or symptoms mean that you have a form of dementia. Sometimes, the memory loss is a result of vitamin deficiencies, thyroid or hormonal imbalances, or a traumatic event that causes grief and leaves you a bit disoriented overall, like the loss of a loved one.
If you’re experiencing issues with memory loss, talk to a doctor to make sure you’re diagnosed (and treated) correctly, and as early as possible.
How Does It Affect Daily Life?
For dementia sufferers, it can be very evident that their whole lifestyle goes through a major upheaval when their memory and cognitive ability starts to decline. However, this is mostly only evident to outside viewers, and the sufferers themselves may not notice, or may be too embarrassed or frustrated to say anything. It’s important to understand how dementia affects daily life in order to detect symptoms early on, so that the condition can be managed properly.
Performing daily tasks becomes difficult in a variety of ways. In terms of getting out of the house, no matter how many calendars, alarms or other reminder devices the sufferer has set up, it can still be terribly difficult to remember meetings, appointments, or get-togethers with friends and family. Even worse, it can be difficult to remember how to get to those meeting places as directional abilities decline, which may deter the sufferer even further from leaving their house.
They may also forget to perform routine daily hygiene maintenance on themselves, not showering or shaving for days or weeks on end. This can cause a whole other host of medical issues.
In the house, cooking, cleaning, and generally keeping organized also becomes difficult. Dementia sufferers’ houses are often extremely messy and in disarray, and they may not even notice.
Relationships with Loved Ones
One of the most painful experiences for both the dementia sufferer and their loved ones are their inability to remember who they are. They can forget their own partner’s name, forget who their children are, and not remember any of the cherished memories they have shared with friends and family throughout their life. If it gets bad enough, they can also lose their personal sense of identity, not remembering who they are at all. It’s an extremely jarring experience, both for the sufferer and their loved ones, and can cause a lot of emotional pain on both ends.
A person who has dementia may also have trouble communicating effectively. Some forms can affect language abilities, as well as difficulty understanding what others are saying to them. This makes it very hard to interact with anyone, and often leads to isolation and depression.
How Can I Help?
Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for dementia. However, there are many treatment options that can temporarily improve symptoms. More than anything, if you suspect a loved one has any form of memory loss, it’s important to bring them to a doctor and rule out any testable, curable conditions that may be causing the memory loss. If it’s diagnosed as dementia, there are things your doctor can suggest to help slow the progression, or they may prescribe treatment options.
Patience is key for helping someone suffering from dementia. With impaired cognitive abilities, it can be difficult to perform daily tasks, as outlined above. Put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how difficult this must be for them, and try not to take anything too personally. Remember them as the were before their dementia kicked in, because that’s who they really are, and who they really want to be. It’s incredibly frustrating for them that they’ve lost that intrinsic part of themselves.
In practice, cooking, cleaning, and keeping their living conditions organized for them can help a great deal. Whether you do that yourself or get an in-house help aid for them, any sort of support in that area will improve their quality of life.
When speaking with them, keep things as simple as possible, and try to put things in terms that they’ll understand. Let them explain what they need to you as best they can, let them vent their frustrations to you so that it doesn’t bottle up and cause other mental health problems, let them try to do the things they want to do, and help them with those things as best you can. That may mean driving them to appointments or meetings with friends, picking up dinner or medications for them, or other simple tasks that will only take a few minutes of your time, but will make a world of difference to them.
Dementia patients require a very high level of care and attention, and while this can be daunting, it’s imperative to helping them live out the last part of their life with dignity.
Summary and Sources
Dementia is an extremely detrimental condition for anyone suffering from it, especially seniors. It affects their ability to perform daily tasks, keep up their living space, and even communicate their needs. Luckily, there are things you can do to help your loved one with their condition. One of the most important things to do is to see a doctor and figure out how to best move forward with treatment. Check out some of these resources for more information about dementia, its effects, and what you can do to help.
My name is Scott Grant and I work daily with seniors as a custom wheelchair specialist at a home medical equipment company. I see these people struggle as they lose their independence. I watch their families try to help them but most don't even know where to start. Few are even aware of their options.
Always consult with a medical professional before using any medical equipment.