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Care Guide for Dealing with Dementia

dealing with dementia

Dementia is not a specific disease but a group of symptoms that involve a decline in cognitive functioning, behavioral abilities, and social skills. This decline is severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily life and everyday activities. Dementia involves memory loss and a decline in communication and language skills, visual perception, and the ability to focus and pay attention. It also affects a person’s reasoning and judgment, problem-solving, self-management, and emotional control.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of progressive dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases in older adults. Other common types of dementia include Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, and Mixed dementia.

Dementia ranges in severity from mild cases, when the symptoms are not very noticeable, to the most severe stage, when the symptoms affect all aspects of the person’s life, making them completely dependent on others for basic activities and care.

What are the First Signs of Dementia?

The early signs of dementia may develop gradually and go unnoticed for a long time. Also, the symptoms often vary, so people may fail to recognize them – a person may mistakenly believe that early signs of dementia are a normal part of the aging process.

The first signs of dementia usually include:

  • Memory loss, particularly problems remembering recent events
  • Difficulty planning
  • Poor decision-making
  • Difficulty solving problems and doing everyday tasks
  • Troubles with concentration and increasing confusion about time or place
  • Misplacing things
  • Poor judgment
  • Decline in visual perception
  • Problems speaking or writing
  • Apathy and withdrawal
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Behavior changes
  • Personality changes

What Age Does Dementia Usually Start?

Almost half of all people aged 85 or older may have some form of dementia. However, this doesn’t mean that dementia is a normal part of aging. It is not because many people reach their 80s and 90s without any signs of the disease. While dementia is more common in people over the age of 65, it can also affect people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Who Usually Gets Dementia?

It is unclear why some people develop dementia while others reach a mature age unaffected. However, research shows that several factors, such as a person’s age, genes, lifestyle, and certain health factors, increase the risk of developing dementia.

  • AgeThe risk of dementia increases as people grow older – almost 1 in 4 people aged 85-89 live with dementia.
  • Genes – While in most cases, dementia is not inherited, we may inherit certain genes that increase the risk of the disease. In most cases, however, dementia is caused by a combination of genes and environmental factors. 
  • LifestyleOur daily habits affect our dementia risk. A healthy diet, regular physical exercise, mental and social activities, and avoiding smoking and alcohol are associated with a lower risk of dementia. 
  • HealthMany studies have shown that health factors for dementia include obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

How Long Can Dementia Patients Live?

Research shows that people diagnosed with dementia before age 70 typically live for a decade or longer, but dementia patients, in general, live four to five years. Research shows that the important predictors of how long people with dementia survive include sex, age, and functional ability.

How Can You Prevent Dementia from Progressing?

While there is no known way to prevent dementia, there are some things you can do to slow down the progression of the disease. Factors such as a healthy diet, physical exercise, socializing, challenging your brain with mental activities, and avoiding head injuries may slow the progression of dementia.

What is the Best Care for Dementia Patients?

Caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia is not easy. Dementia patients often don’t want to be around others. Also, people with dementia commonly develop depression, so they often feel sad and hopeless, cry, and appear agitated and irritated.

Furthermore, it is common for a person with dementia to experience mood swings. They may feel overwhelmed, confused, bored, or lonely, which can trigger anger or aggression. Confusion is the most common cause of anger and aggression in people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

How Do You Talk to a Dementia Patient?

You can take certain steps to deal with dementia behavior more successfully. Firstly, when talking to a dementia patient, keep it clear and concise. Communicate directly and softly, making one point at a time. Don’t give multi-step instructions or offer multiple options. Also, pay attention to your body language. Look the person in the eye and use a friendly tone and demeanor.

Step back or try changing the dynamics of what you are doing when the person gets agitated or aggressive. Also, provide care in a relaxed manner and smile often because the person with dementia will notice your emotional state and pay attention to your body language.

Avoid criticism and be supportive, patient, and reassuring. Listen attentively, show empathy, and encourage the dementia patient to express their feelings. Show that you care and that you are fully there for them.

Thomas Kitwood’s Flower of Emotional Needs

Thomas Kitwood, a pioneer in the field of dementia care, developed a model of person-centered care for dementia patients based on a number of fundamental psychological and social needs. Kitwood identified basic psychological and social needs that include love, comfort, identity, occupation, inclusion, and attachment. Every person has these needs. However, when caring for a person with dementia, we need to be particularly aware of them. Because when fulfilled, these basic needs can improve the quality of life that an individual living with dementia experiences.

  • LoveWe all need to love and be loved. From self-love to loving a person, we need to feel accepted and attached to others to survive and thrive.
  • ComfortEvery person needs to feel safe, free of pain, able to bond with others, and have their basic needs met.
  • IdentityPersonal identity refers to all those identifying factors that help us and others to understand who we are. These factors include anything from our preferences, values, and beliefs to our habits, looks, abilities, and skills.
  • Occupation  – It is in our human nature to want to be occupied with meaningful things. This gives us a feeling of worth and purpose in life.
  • InclusionPeople normally want to be a part of something. Leaving a person with dementia out may worsen their feelings of loneliness, isolation, anger, and depression.
  • AttachmentFrom personal connections to a need to form wider attachments in our community, every person needs to feel connected. Attachment is crucial for our feelings of well-being, and this need doesn’t change with dementia.

A person with dementia relies on others for basic activities and needs. Patience, support, compassion, and love in dementia care are crucial, as they help the person feel safe and at ease.