It can be frustrating when our body doesn’t move like it used to as we age. Getting up from the couch may take a little more momentum, or it may take a few more minutes to straighten all the way up in the morning. And let’s not even talk about walking on gravel without shoes! That ship sailed years ago. But perhaps even more frustrating is when our mind doesn’t work like it used to.
Suspecting dementia is a valid concern for those experiencing memory loss and forgetfulness, or those with loved ones exhibiting similar behavior. Oftentimes, it can start out so slight that the only ones who can pick up the subtle cues are close family members.
First, let’s define what dementia is.
The dictionary describes it as “severe impairment or loss of intellectual capacity and personality integration, due to the loss of or damage to neurons in the brain.” Alz.org describes it as “a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.”
Signs of dementia:
• Short-term memory issues
• Keeping track of frequently used items like glasses, wallet, purse, etc.
• Everyday tasks seem more complex like paying bills, preparing meals, using a phone or remote
• Keeping track of appointments becomes confusing or overwhelming
• Getting lost while driving familiar routes, losing a sense of direction
• Difficulty remembering certain words
• A shift in personality
• Loss of interest in hobbies or social outings
• Repeating oneself
While this is a pretty good list of red flags, this doesn’t mean a diagnosis of dementia. These early signs can come in a variety of combinations and degrees. If you have been suspecting dementia — or that something neurological is going on with a loved one, here are the steps you can take:
- Have a difficult conversation
While this can be hard to do, talking to your loved one about your concerns and encouraging them to see a doctor is the first line of defense and one of the most important steps in caring for a loved one. The earlier you can get medical tests done, the better chances you have of slowing the progression, if diagnosed. Offer to go with them for support and to help communicate with the doctor. Additionally, now is a good time, if you haven’t already, to discuss assigning a Medical Power of Attorney. This will allow the assigned person or family member access to medical information and enable them to discuss openly with any physicians on their behalf. Oftentimes, because it’s an uncomfortable conversation, this important decision is delayed until a time when it’s critical which makes it more complicated.
- Visit a general practitioner
The first step when suspecting dementia is to visit a GP. Tell them your concerns and give examples of behavior that is concerning to you. In this situation, and depending on the loved one’s willingness to go, it’s good to be sure the GP is aware of why you are coming in beforehand so you can convey any pertinent information privately which will allow the physician to most effectively — and tactfully— conduct the evaluation. If deemed necessary, he/she can refer you to a neurologist for further testing.
- Visit a Neurologist
An experienced neurologist will conduct more in-depth testing and determine if the concerning behavior is dementia or another cognitive problem. Your loved one will most likely complete a thorough series of memory and mental tests, a neurological exam, blood tests, and brain imaging tests.
Treatment for dementia can consist of a wide range of things including:
• Lifestyle changes to reduce frustration and confusion
• Daily activity to engage the mind
• Therapeutic approaches (occupational, art, music, pet, massage, aroma)
• Watching video or looking at photos of family and loved ones
- Educate yourself and be patient
One of the most important things is to educate yourself on how to provide loving support to a family member with dementia. A common practice, although difficult for some, is Validation Therapy. This means agreeing with the ideas of the dementia patient to reduce stress on them and encourage communication. Remember, taking care of yourself is just as important.
If you are suspecting dementia, there ARE ways to slow the progress of this disease through diet, lifestyle, medication and even some research studies being conducted. The key is to catch it early and make changes. For current information on treatments for dementia, visit alz.org/ or dementia.org/
Dementia can progress quickly when big changes occur in the patient’s life—like moving out of their home. This is why it’s always beneficial to have dementia patients remain in the home as long as feasibly possible. If you have received a diagnosis and feel like home care will be needed, call The Nursing Team at 816-282-6998 for a complimentary consultation. We can create a customized care plan for your loved one that will make everyone in the family feel better about their care and safety.