Dealing with Dementia – Adapting Home and Life

When someone you love has dementia, everyone is affected. Immediate family members and close friends will need to find ways to adjust themselves, and their routines, to accommodate the changing situations. Initially it will be hardly noticeable, maybe even amusing. But as time goes on, the symptoms of dementia impact more and more on a person’s daily life. Dealing with dementia becomes a burden for everyone. But there are ways to ease the burden, for the dementia patient and for the family members and carers.

Dealing with Dementia in the Home

Daily tasks which were once taken for granted, like feeding, washing or dressing, become difficult or impossible. For the patient, dealing with dementia is not at all easy. It is not easy physically, and not easy to accept mentally or emotionally. Assistance in all things becomes increasingly necessary.

For the family and friends it can be equally difficult in different ways. But there are ways to ease the burden. There are ways to cope.

In the following sections and posts we will propose some of the tried and tested recommendations for home improvements or lifestyle adjustments. We will discuss some of the latest advancements in medical or non-medical thinking, such as diet or exercise.

We shall also look into some of the many golden promises, snake oils, and miracle cures. Every month the internet finds another cure-all, another ”medical breakthrough”, or another chemical or physical “cause” for dementia. Internet “experts” claim to know how to prevent or reverse dementia. Just because the medical fraternity has not proven these methods don’t work, does it necessarily mean that they can’t work?

We shall neither recommend nor dismiss any of these claims. We are not here to provide medical opinion. Just to present the arguments.

As the reader dealing with dementia in your own family, do decide for yourselves what will work for you.

Dementia symptoms not caused by dementia

Dementia is defined by a range of symptoms caused by damage to the brain. Memory loss and confusion are two of the most common symptoms of dementia. These symptoms are the result of damage to the hippocampus region of the brain, where learning and memory take place. However these symptoms alone are not a confirmation of dementia. Only a doctor’s diagnosis can confirm dementia.

Memory loss and confusion do occur as part of a normal part of aging. In addition, the following are also known to cause memory loss and confusion:

  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Thyroid problems
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Side effects from medication
  • Depression
  • Although we cannot avoid getting older, we can treat the above problems and in turn treat the memory loss and confusion they cause.

    Changes in personality, mood or behaviour are other common symptoms of dementia. Again it is necessary to seek a doctor’s diagnosis as these symptoms may be caused by other factors such as medication, alcohol or depression.

    Similarly clumsiness, stiffness, difficulty with movement and reduced co-ordination are all a normal part of getting older. These should not be confused with dementia unless they are occurring at a rate or degree not considered normal for aging. Always seek a doctor’s diagnosis when dealing with dementia.

    Can dementia be deferred? Can it be prevented? 

    Surprisingly the worldwide rate of dementia has been declining in recent years. This is in spite of a “dementia explosion” predicted as a result of global population aging.

    A twelve year study conducted by Jama Internal Medicine, found the rate of dementia for Americans 65 years and older decreased from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012. The average age for a confirmed dementia diagnosis has also been increasing, suggesting we are managing to delay the onset of dementia.

    In this era of internet information the general population continues to become more aware and more knowledgeable. In an attempt to find ways to defer dementia, or prevent dementia, the aging population has succeeded in delaying the onset of dementia. For many, the delay may have resulted in total prevention, as death by other causes has occurred first.

    When dealing with dementia, early diagnosis is critical in helping to defer the more severe symptoms of the later stages. This is achieved through earlier intervention with medical and lifestyle treatments. Doctor prescribed medicines at the early stages of dementia can help to delay the progression of many of the symptoms. More importantly, doctor prescribed medicines and lifestyle changes to those in at-risk groups can help to delay the onset of dementia.

    Simple medical recommendations by doctors to those at risk include dietary changes and consuming certain vitamins known to help with brain health.

    There is currently no cure for dementia. It cannot be medically prevented nor reversed. However steps may be taken in an attempt to defer the onset or symptoms of dementia. Although these may or may not be medically proven to succeed, the rate of dementia has been declining over recent years.

    Dealing with Dementia – Being Dementia Aware

    Being dementia aware involves making dementia a talking point. Dementia has often been spoken about in whispers. And those most at risk are the ones least prepared to discuss the topic. By starting the discussion early, long before an elder family member "feels" old, they will be more prepared to embrace lifestyle suggestions and changes.

    Dementia awareness involves taking an interest in brain health, at a time when you are still able to do something about it. Understand how the brain works and what keeps it active. Understand the importance of keeping connected and stimulated.

    Being dementia aware includes embracing simple lifestyle changes to assist with cogitative stimulation and general health. This has been shown to help defer the onset of dementia in the most at risk population- the elderly.

    Increasing cognitive stimulation includes:

  • Wearing of hearing aids.
  • Increasing social activity.
  • Increased physical activity.
  • Music therapy.
  • Creative therapies.
  • Movement and dance therapies.
  • Let’s address each of these in turn, starting with the wearing of hearing aids- the number one lifestyle change necessary to maintain maximum brain connectivity. Loss of hearing is also one of the least addressed and least welcome traits of ageing.

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