Being a caregiver for an elderly person with dementia can be a challenging job. We hope that by offering this guide for CDPAP caregivers that we can help alleviate some of the challenges you may face. Below, we will walk you through several aspects of being a caregiver for a patient with dementia such as signs of dementia, causes of dementia, and the different types of dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a decline in memory and other mental cognition abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the progression of dementia in older adults. People who suffer from dementia can have changes and their cognitive ability, memory loss, and difficulty communicating like they once did.

Dementia is a serious disease that does require care and help.

Signs of Dementia

Below are some of the most common signs of dementia in older adults.

Cognitive changes

One of the most common signs of dementia in older adults is memory loss, which is typically noticed by somebody else other than the patient. Another common symptom is difficulty communicating with others or finding the right words to explain what they feel or need.

Visual and spatial abilities also decrease. An example of a reduction in the capabilities of visual and spatial cognition is getting lost while driving or not remembering where they are in their house. Difficulty reasoning or problem-solving is another frequent sign of dementia that can show itself in simple tasks that require basic problem solving or logical reasoning.

 Difficulty handling more complex tasks is another sign of dementia in older adults. this is also frequently seen alongside difficulty with motor functions and coordination. Planning and organizing can become more challenging for somebody who is experiencing dementia.

Patients with signs of dementia may also be disoriented and confused at basic and simple things, or forget where they are even if they have been there for a very long time.

Psychological Changes

Several psychological changes come with the progression of dementia in older adults. The main psychological change that comes with progressing dementia is changes in their personality. Usually, the shift in personality can be detected by somebody close to the patient but is typically not detected by the patient.

An older adult suffering from dementia may also begin to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety that were not present earlier in their lives. Sometimes patients with progressing dementia can also experience bouts of paranoia and agitation, and in extreme cases, hallucinations. Inappropriate behavior becomes more frequent as well.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia is caused by the loss of nerve cells or damage of nerve cells and their connections within the brain. Because the brain serves many different functions, the area of the brain that is damaged will cause different effects and show different symptoms in the patient, which is why it can be difficult to spot Dementia in an older adult.

How to prevent Dementia

Several things can help to prevent the onset of dementia in older adults, however, there is no surefire way to completely prevent dementia from developing.

  • Keeping your mind active is a great way to help prevent the onset of dementia. Having an active mind helps increase and maintain the neuroplasticity of the brain, which reduces the amount of damage to nerve cells over time as a person ages.  Word games, number games, and other puzzles are great solutions to increasing and maintaining neuroplasticity in the brain.
  • Socialization is also a huge aspect of preventing dementia. Our brains and our bodies are social creatures, and we rely heavily on our peers to keep ourselves young. The more engaged we are within our communities and with friends, the less our brain is affected as we age.
  • Physical exercise is our third method of preventing dementia. Just as exercising your brain to increase and maintain neuroplasticity, exercising your body is a great way to maintain your overall physical health, which in turn helps maintain your neural health.
  • If you are a smoker and do you want to prevent the onset of dementia, then you should quit smoking.
  • Eating enough healthy foods and maintaining a healthy diet are crucial to preventing the onset of dementia in elderly adults. Make sure that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals, as well as drinking your water and eating your vegetables. Yes, that includes the green ones.
  • If you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, discuss a health plan with your doctor to help manage your cardiovascular risk factors. This will help prevent the onset of dementia. If you have other health conditions, speak with your doctor about the best way to handle them. Handling your health conditions and maintaining good health is crucial to preventing dementia.
  • Make sure that you are getting a healthy amount of sleep each night. Sleeping well helps the body to restore the damage done during the day while the body is awake. This includes neural pathways and nerve cells as well.

Types of dementia

There are several different types of dementia. 

  • One of the most common forms of dementia is called Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that over time destroys memory and other mental functions.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease is experiencing the failure of brain cell connections as the cells regenerate and die. This degeneration is what contributes to memory loss and other cognitive impairments. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s.

  • Another form of dementia is called frontotemporal dementia. Frontotemporal dementia is a general term for several brain disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes in the brain. These lobes in the brain are typically associated with our personalities and the way we behave. Frontotemporal dementia typically displays symptoms involving the way we behave, our personalities, and how we speak.
  • Lewy body dementia is another form of dementia. It is a degenerative condition that is relatively similar to Alzheimer’s and also has no cure. Lewy body dementia is associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein within the brain. These protein deposits are called Lewy bodies and the Lewy bodies affect chemicals in the brain that affect the way the patient thinks, moves, behaves, and moods.
  • Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. Vascular dementia is caused when there is insufficient blood flow to damaged brain tissue. The blood flow may be reduced by a blockage or completely blocked off by a blood clot.
  • Lastly, is mixed dementia. Mixed dementia is when several conditions are representing more than one type of dementia within one person. Typically, you can see mixed dementia symptoms portrayed by Alzheimer’s disease symptoms as well as vascular dementia symptoms.

Diagnosing dementia

Firstly, the doctors will assess whether the person has any underline, potentially treatable, conditions that might be the cause of the cognitive difficulties. If no such cognitive impairment is found, then the doctors will  proceed to test for dementia.

Doctors will perform a physical exam to check the blood pressure and other vital signs of the patient. They may also send for laboratory blood tests or tests of other fluids to check levels of various hormones, chemicals, and vitamins, in the patient to help figure out if it is Dementia or something else.

If the doctors suspect that the patient has dementia, then they will order cognitive and neurological examinations and tests to see how the person’s cognitive and behavioral functions perform.  Doctors May order brain scans at this time as well.

Typically, the doctors will also order a psychiatric evaluation to make sure that there isn’t something else going on in the patient’s brain. Around this time, doctors may also order genetic tests and blood tests.

Tips for a caregiver of someone with dementia

  • Setting a positive mood for interaction with a patient is crucial for treating and caring for someone with dementia. It may take them longer than usual or longer than it used to figure out what you were talking about.
  • When you are communicating with the patient, always state your message clearly and concisely. If you add too many confusing elements, you will make your patient feel lost and unsure. When asking questions, make sure that they are simple and answerable for their cognitive ability.
  • As you listen to somebody with dementia speak, make sure you are listening not only with your ears but with your eyes and your heart. Maintain eye contact, and remain compassionate to them always.
  • Before embarking on any activities or journeys with the patient, make sure that you break them down so that they understand what is going to be happening that day. Explain to them the activity in a series of steps that is easy and clear to understand.
  • If the patient with dementia begins to get frustrated and things seem to be tough for them, try to distract and redirect their attention to something else to give them time to recuperate from their frustration. If the patient wants to reminisce on the good old days, let them. Dementia patients must use their brains the best that they can and practice remembering their lives.
  • Lastly, don’t be afraid to joke! Dementia patients are still people, even if they feel a bit confused sometimes. Be yourself, be kind, and make them laugh. They will appreciate it.

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