Considering how prevalent it has become, it is unfortunate that there is a lack of awareness and understanding around dementia. This is not only overwhelming for the person suffering from from dementia, but also for their caregivers and families. Regardless of whether you know or care for someone who suffers from dementia, here are 15 facts about dementia that everyone should know:
1. Some loss of mental ability is normal with age but dementia is not necessarily, inevitable part of aging. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe symptoms caused by a variety of progressive brain illnesses that affect memory, problem-solving, and communication. In other words, dementia describes a general decline in cognitive abilities related to a gradual death of brain cells. Since there is no single definitive cause of dementia found yet, there is no way of telling whether a person will develop the condition or not.
2. Dementia is more than memory loss. It’s a condition that doesn’t just attack the memory; dementia damages the brain, which attacks the whole system. It affects your thinking, but it also changes your personality and day-to-day functionality.
Symptoms of dementia can include: difficulty communicating, confusion, disorientation, delusions, visual problems, losing track of time, issues with planning, impaired problem-solving, difficulty concentrating, problems with vocabulary (mixing up words, making up new ones), losing things and being unable to retrace steps, challenges with decision-making, changes in behavior, avoiding social activities or hobbies that were usually enjoyed, and changes in mood or personality.
Some behaviors that people with dementia commonly suffer from include: agitation, paranoia, aggression, wandering, and sundowning. Dementia is a different experience for everyone and symptoms will vary. Symptoms can be confusing for both the person with dementia and the people around them, but trying to track and understand them is key to managing optimal wellness and functionality.
3. Alzheimer's Disease is the most common type of dementia. There are over 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's Disease. Although it can be normal to forget some things as we age, in most cases we have the ability to remember later and function normally on a daily basis. However, a person with Alzheimer's can forget recently learned information to the point that it hinders their daily activity and ability to take care of themselves properly. This can involve forgetting names, familiar places, appointments, bill payments, important events, and tasks that were once routine.
4. There are several different types of dementia. When people think of dementia, we often think of Alzheimer’s Disease. However, there are many different types of dementia with their own unique symptoms and cause. Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, it is not the only one. An estimated 47 million people worldwide suffer from dementia. It can be difficult to differentiate symptoms, but it’s important to understand the underlying cause of each case of dementia because they affect our lives differently and require specialized treatment. You can read more about the different types of dementia here.
5. With some forms of dementia, people may gradually lose their ability to distinguish what is socially appropriate. Since their judgment and ability to communicate are impaired, curse words, obscenities, and other taboo behaviors like can become a problem for people with dementia. Their loss in brain function limits their understanding of what is appropriate in public or how to properly interact with others.
6. Some people with dementia experience a symptom called “sundowning.” Sundowning is a troubled state of confusion or agitation that begins at dusk and continues into the night. It can lead to increased anxiety, aggression, pacing, wandering, and impulsive behavior. This may be triggered by exhaustion or problems with one’s internal biological clock that causes mix ups between day and night. This can be accompanied by restlessness at night, troubles sleeping, and even hallucinations.
7. Some people with dementia may hoard things. Sometimes hoarding can be an attempt to feel safe and in control by creating a private supply of food or collection of things they like. It is often harmless, but if one starts refusing to throw things away, for example, it can lead to a dangerous amount of clutter. These actions can signify deep fears and anxiety, but can also be caused by confusion. Over time, items may become more important to them as they can resemble memories and bring comfort and security. A person with dementia may also hide things in places where they kept things earlier in life.
8. Dementia can lead to aggressive behavior. In later stages of dementia, people can behave in an agitated, aggressive manner. There are many things caregivers can do to help manage aggressive behavior from seniors with dementia.
9. Caregivers of people with dementia experience considerable stress and exhaustion. There will always be good and bad days, but in general, caring for someone with dementia is energy and time-consuming. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience, though it does come with a lot of challenges. For example, sometimes people with dementia refuse help or only accept help from a specific individual.
10. No treatments can stop the diseases that cause dementia once they start progressing. Treatment can help clients live better, maybe even slow down the progression of dementia, but nothing has been proven cure dementia (yet).
11. Getting an early diagnosis of dementia will improve quality of life. Sometimes a family can be blindsided by a diagnosis of dementia. When the onset of dementia first starts, symptoms can be mild. People with the condition may be surprised to discover the true extent of their issues. Some studies claim that symptoms can often be experienced for five years prior to an official diagnosis. Overlooking early signs of dementia allows the condition to progress quicker. As soon as you have suspicions, it’s important to go to the doctor and start coming up with a plan.
12. Dementia affects women more than it affects men. Although it is not a risk factor, almost two thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's disease are women.
13. Some researchers refer to dementia as diabetes of the brain. Although there is no direct link proven yet, people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, people on insulin therapy are 4 times as likely to develop the disease, compared to non-diabetics.
14. Although there is no definitive root cause of dementia, risk factors include aging, poor diet and exercise habits, and family history. Having a first degree relative with dementia can increase the risk of developing the disease, especially when coupled with other lifestyle choices. Having heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol can also increase your chances of developing dementia.
15. Alzheimer’s disease is ultimately fatal. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Since 2000, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14% while deaths from Alzheimer's have increased by 89%. 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.
Managing Dementia Symptoms
Different types of dementia require different types of treatment. Although there is no cure, there are many things you can do to manage dementia symptoms and hinder the disease’s progress or increase daily comfort and functionality. Alegre Home Care provides top-notch, personalized treatment for different types of dementia.