Dealing with Dementia: Recognizing It’s Arrival

Ruth became a widow at the age of 69 and has been living alone for 15 years. Her daughter Susan visits Ruth regularly – and is starting to worry about her mom’s forgetfulness.

“Yesterday I took her shopping and this morning when we spoke on the phone, she didn’t remember the shopping trip or what we bought,” Susan told her husband that night. “Later in the day I stopped in to check on her. She couldn’t remember if she had eaten breakfast, and I found her cereal sitting all soggy in a bowl inside the microwave. I don’t think it’s safe for mom to live alone anymore.”

“Dementia is a permanent decline in cognitive function and memory from a previous level of function,” says Crysty Frick, a nurse practitioner and former assisted living manager in Tucson, AZ. “Dementia itself is not a disease, but instead a collection of symptoms caused by diseases or other conditions.”

Frick explains that all types of dementia have common characteristics, but they also have different treatments and prognoses. Although dementia is more common in elderly people, it is not a normal function of aging. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms and characteristics of dementia include:

  • Problems with sleep and changes in sleep patterns such as the sleep-wake cycle, insomnia and the need for more sleep.
  • Learning and problem solving skills may diminish; such as difficulty making calculations and the inability to learn or think abstractly.
  • Language skills can be affected ranging from poor language to total lack of ability to communicate, including the inability to form words, name objects, read or write.
  • Motor skills can be impacted by causing changes in gait and well as decreased function. 

Both short- and long-term memory problems can occur, Frick says; however, memory problems become increasingly worse as the dementia progresses. Personality changes can also take place, occurring suddenly or gradually escalating.  In Part 2, we’ll explore these changes and discuss approaches to caring for those with dementia.

by Pamela Sayers

Dealing with Dementia: Part 1 -  Recognizing Its Arrival  was written for publication online by Genius Avenue LLC. Reprinted here with permission.

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