Dealing with Dementia: A Guide for Family Members

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The number of Americans dealing with Alzheimer’s dementia is steadily growing. An estimated 6.2 million individuals age 65 and older are living with the condition – that’s one in nine people of the age group. It’s predicted that the condition will affect 12.7 million people age 65 and older by 2050.

But while that seems like a far-off reality, Alzheimer’s dementia and other forms of dementia continue to be a challenge for many households and families today. Home care might be the obvious option for many but there’s no denying the strain that the condition places on the entire family.

Educate yourself on dementia so you can have a better understanding of your relative’s condition and what you can do to make them feel as safe and comfortable as possible.

What is dementia and how does it progress?

Dementia is a general term used for conditions that cause progressive cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common conditions that show symptoms of dementia. Using this condition as a baseline, here are the seven stages of primary degenerative dementia:

Stage 1: No Cognitive Decline

CT scans and other imaging techniques might show some changes in the brain. But the patient doesn’t necessarily exhibit signs and symptoms of cognitive decline.

Stage 2: Very Mild Cognitive Decline

The patient might sometimes forget words or misplace things. This is normal as people age. So as a sign of dementia, it might go unnoticed by most people.

Stage 3: Mild Cognitive Decline

The patient might experience short-term memory loss. Examples include forgetting the names of people they just met or forgetting things they just heard or read. The patient might also start misplacing or losing things more frequently.

Stage 4: Moderate Cognitive Decline

The patient feels disoriented more often. They might forget the present date, time, or place they’re in. Simple math calculations could also be difficult for the patient. Their condition becomes obvious to the people around them.

Stage 5: Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline

The patient might start forgetting major information like their phone number and home address. They might also forget how to bathe and have difficulties with choosing and wearing clothes.

Stage 6: Severe Cognitive Decline

At this stage, the patient might forget the name of loved ones. They might mistake people for each other. They might also need help going to the bathroom. Anxiety and severe confusion are quite common at this stage.

Stage 7: Very Severe Cognitive Decline

The final stage of dementia might cause a patient to struggle with communication. It might cause them to lose bladder and bowel control. At this stage, they will also become dependent on others for basic living activities like eating and drinking.

The speed of progression through these stages varies among patients. Similarly, the symptoms that patients experience at each stage might vary and overlap.

How is dementia treated and prevented?

Age and genetics are unavoidable risk factors for dementia. But following healthy practices, such as a nutritional diet and regular physical activity, could reduce the risk of dementia. Activities that stimulate cognitive abilities such as reading, writing, and solving crossword puzzles could also reduce the risk.

Dementia due to vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, or depression may be treated with medication.

For patients who have already been diagnosed with progressive dementia, however, can only take medications to keep the symptoms at bay.

How can relatives support a loved one with dementia?

Patients with dementia are often anxious and confused when they start to forget things or when things that should be familiar to them suddenly feel different. Contribute to their quality of life through:

  • Creating a calm atmosphere where they can ask questions and express themselves
  • Building a safe and secure environment that supports their physical and cognitive needs
  • Coping with their agitation or confusion through gentle reminders and simple explanations
  • Establishing daily routines, from morning wake-up to meals and snacks to evening bedtimes
  • Block doors, use alarm systems and install special locks to prevent the patient from wandering

Always remember to be attentive to a relative with dementia. Speak clearly and calmly to them. And acknowledge their feelings. A supportive environment does wonders for people with their condition.

Caring for a loved one with dementia also includes looking after yourself.

Ask for help from relatives or support groups for ideas on how to make the situation for your family. There’s also nothing wrong with home care of adult daycare centers to provide an added level of stability to you and your loved one’s life.