More often we are hearing physicians use the term dementia when diagnosing older patients. The earliest signs of dementia are usually memory problems, confusion, and changes in the way a person behaves and communicates. Dementia is caused by various diseases and conditions that result in damaged brain cells. There are several types of dementia. The most common being Alzheimer’s, which remains the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.
In the 11 years that I have been assisting seniors with their transitions through the second half of their lives, the most memorable are those living with dementia. Their families typically begin noticing changes two to three years prior to their actual diagnosis. Cognitive symptoms of dementia can include poor problem solving, difficulty learning new skills, and impaired decision making. Behavior changes can include fear, insecurity, anger and, often, depression like symptoms.
It is incorrect to assume that memory loss is a natural part of growing older. Be alert to changes in the individual. Just like any other symptom you may be concerned about, when it comes to your health, don’t ignore it. Our community is full of resources like the Mercy Memory Care Clinic and the University of Iowa Memory Disorders Clinic.
People with dementia don’t become a different person overnight. While the disease is developing, encourage cognitive and physical engagement. Research shows that even after a dementia diagnosis, if the individual keeps working their mind and body, the disease seems to progress less quickly.
Be open-minded about your options. There are assisted living options specifically for seniors living with dementia, offering apartments in a secure environment to encourage independence and socialization. The spouse can even reside with the resident. There are also home health agencies available to come in to your home and offer companionship or even respite for the caregiver.
The progression is unpredictable. Rather than concentrating on the problems the illness brings you, stay positive and informed of the resources in our community that can help you and your loved one have a quality life.