Dementia: The Degradation of Mind, Body, & Soul
"I have not had anything to eat in two weeks." (Even though I just ate breakfast). "My mother came to visit me today" (even though she has been deceased for 20 years). "I do not take any medicine" (even though medication is given twice per day). "I cannot find my clothes, someone stole them." These are just some of the questions that a caregiver might face when taking care of a loved one with dementia. Dementia is a disease that causes a decrease in thinking and social symptoms that interfere with daily functioning. Symptoms include forgetfulness, limited social skills and thinking abilities. Some people may experience memory loss, mental decline, and confusion in the evening hours, disorientation, inability to speak or understand language, making things up, mental confusion or inability to recognize common things. Individuals that experience dementia can have behavioral issues such as irritability, personality changes, restlessness, lack of restraint or wandering and getting lost. The mood of a person with dementia can range from anxiety, loneliness, mood swings or nerviness. Psychologically, they can become depressed, have hallucinations or paranoia. Their muscles can become affected causing unsteady walking which can result in falls. Dementia is a disease that continues in progress. There is no cure only treatment to delay the progression of the disease.
There are several types of dementia. The most common is Alzheimer's Disease. This disease is a buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain causing a decline in memory, thinking, and cognition. The 2nd most common is vascular dementia which usually comes as a result from decrease blood flow or from post-stroke and bleeding on the brain that causes memory loss, impaired judgement, and decrease ability to plan, and loss of motivation. Lewy Body Dementia is the 3rd most common cause of dementia. The main symptoms are sleep problems, memory loss, hallucinations, and frequent swings in alertness. This form of dementia is caused by Lewy body's abnormal proteins that somehow appear in nerve cells and impair functioning. Alcohol Dementia is another form of Dementia that is a result from consuming high volumes of alcohol over a period of years. This can result in memory loss, hallucinations, cognitive decline and muscular difficulties. Just about any condition that causes damage to the brain or nerve cells can cause dementia. Examples include: Parkinson's disease, Huntington Disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.
The caregiver has an enormous task. Over the course of the decrease, the caregiver becomes the mouth to speak for the Dementia resident. The must aide in the thinking process. They become the focus for reasoning in all situations. They help with all activities of daily living: bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, feeding, and dressing. This is a 24 hour 7 days week task. The caregiver must remember to make time for themselves to maintain their sanity because this disease can consume the caregiver quickly.
Tips for Communicating with a person with Dementia:
1. Set a positive mood for interaction
2. Get the person's attention
3. State your message clearly
4. Ask Simple, answerable questions
5. Listen with your eyes, ears, and heart
6. Break down activities into a series of steps
7. When the going gets tough, distract and redirect
8. Respond with affection and reassurance
9. Remember the good old days
10. Maintain your sense of humor
Note: You are not alone. There are many others caring for someone with Dementia. Locate your nearest Area Agency on Aging, local Alzheimer's Association, or Assisted Living/Memory Care unit for a break using their Respite Care and/or Daycare. Find support groups, organization and services that can help you. Expect that, like the love one you are caring for, you will have good days and bad days. Develop strategies for coping with the bad days.
Joseph Tucker, RN