The Details of Dementia
Forgetfulness does not equal dementia.
Misplaced car keys are going to happen. Likewise, skipping a dose of medication is not necessarily cause for concern.
There are, however, key warning signs to consider if you are concerned that a loved one might be among the 6.2 million Americans 65 and older, including more than 400,000 Texans, living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.
We all have “senior moments.” Symptoms of dementia are something else entirely.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks, confusion about time and place and problems with speech and vocabulary are causes for concern. It is important to note that the more intelligent a person is, the easier it will be for them to mask symptoms. Changes in personality and behavior are important signals that a loved one is struggling with brain function.
Dr. Sarah Ross is an assistant professor of geriatrics with the Center for Geriatrics at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Ross said observing the consistency of performing everyday activities can help differentiate between dementia symptoms and routine forgetfulness.
“Looking at bill paying and shopping and driving when some of those more complex daily things start to have some challenges,” she said, “getting lost while driving, the spaghetti sauce Mom makes tastes different or [they are] not paying bills or paying bills too much.”
Identifying a memory-related illness is just one step in the journey to provide care and comfort.
Suffering from dementia can often lead a person to withdraw from activities that have previously been important. Social isolation can lead to depression, which causes additional challenges in care.
Engaging in physical and mental activities are critical to keeping your loved one engaged and staving off isolation and depression.
TALK TO OTHERS
Unless you have daily contact with an aging family member, it is possible that others are in a better position to look for warning signs. And that’s OK. Do not rule out the possibility that a coworker, friend or neighbor might be more attuned to abnormal changes in behavior and cognitive function.
If you are concerned, seek medical help. As with any disease, early detection is important in developing a treatment plan and finding ways to improve quality of life.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
When caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, you must pay attention to how you communicate.
AVOID MULTITASKING Keep distraction to a minimum when communicating with someone who is battling dementia. Put away your phone. Turn off the TV/radio and make sure you are fully dialed into the conversation.
KEEP IT SIMPLE Processing communication can be difficult for someone coping with dementia-related illness. Speak slowly and understand that repetition, while frustrating to you, can be beneficial to the other person. Ask “yes” or “no”questions.
DON'T ARGUE What your loved one is saying might be incorrect. It might be hurtful. But that person often does not understand and cannot control what they are saying. Correcting or arguing is not helpful.
TONE MATTERS Anger and irritation will still register, even if a person doesn’t recognize you and has trouble processing what you are saying. Stay patient.
You and your loved one are not alone.
In 2020 there were more than 11 million Americans, mostly family members, providing unpaid care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In Texas, close to 1.08 million unpaid caregivers provided support for people with Alzheimer’s in 2020, which equates to an estimated 1.76 billion hours of unpaid care at a cost of approximately $25.7 billion.
However, support and counseling are available. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a 24-hour support hotline for caregivers and support groups that meet statewide as well as several local chapters, including Greater Dallas and North Central Texas (Fort Worth). Assistance and information can also be found through Texas Health and Human Services (THHS), the Aging and Disability Resource Center and Area Agencies on Aging.
“You don’t have to do it alone,” said Jaime Cobb, vice president of dementia & caregiver education at James L. West Center for Dementia Care. “Sometimes you have to make the effort to get the education or the support.”
The resources available include information and support for those who are providing the care for loved ones with dementia and other memory-related illnesses. Caring for yourself is critical when caring for someone else becomes your responsibility.