What is Dementia? Everything You Need to Know
By CarePatrol of Baltimore
Have you noticed an aging loved one forgetting little things here or there? It’s normal to get distracted sometimes, but if it’s becoming a pattern, it could be a sign of dementia. Dementia is a general term for the decline in mental ability that interferes with daily life. It’s usually progressive, worsening as time goes on.
Dementia is not a specific disease, more so a wide range of symptoms associated with cognitive impairment. Because it can vary so widely in cause, onset, and development, family members may be unsure how to get help. Let's talk about what dementia is, its major signs and symptoms, and how to find the best memory care services for older adults.
Dementia 101: A Guide for Family & Friends
The Basics: Dementia Defined
Dementia is a brain disorder. It is caused by damage to brain cells, which impacts their communication with each other. A dementia diagnosis requires that a person demonstrate at least two of the following symptoms that affect the brain:
- Memory loss
- Issues with communication and language
- Loss of ability to focus
- Lack of reasoning and judgment
- Impaired visual perception
What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease?
You’re probably familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer's accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. People with Alzheimer's accumulate abnormal protein deposits (amyloid plaques and tau tangles) in the brain. This leads to the death of brain cells and the gradual decline of cognitive function.
In the early stages of the disease, people may experience memory loss and confusion. As the disease progresses, you may notice other changes in the person, including:
- Trouble with daily tasks, such as personal care
- Language problems
- Personality and behavior changes
- Getting lost or wandering
Early diagnosis from a trusted health care provider is key to maintaining a person's quality of life throughout all stages of the disease. In the middle to late stages, a person is likely to require specialized dementia care services.
To learn more, explore this beginner's guide to Alzheimer's disease.
What is the Cause of Dementia?
There are many causes, and while Alzheimer's may be the most common and most well-known, it's not the only one. We’re still learning every day what causes Alzheimer’s, but for other forms, we have a clearer understanding. There are several other forms and causes of dementia, including:
- Vascular dementia: Can occur after a stroke, when the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients.
- Lewy body dementia: Characterized by the presence of Lewy bodies, which are abnormal clumps of proteins that accumulate in the brain. Doctors don’t know why these develop.
- Frontotemporal dementia: Typically caused by damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain and characterized by changes in behavior, unusual behaviors, or emotional problems.
- Mixed dementia: When a person shows symptoms of two different conditions, such as having symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. In these cases, there may be multiple causes.
In rare cases, some symptoms of dementia are reversible, such as those caused by thyroid issues and vitamin deficiencies. Many people will incorrectly call dementia “senility,” or say someone is going “senile” with old age. But it's important to know that dementia is not a normal, inevitable part of aging, and these terms only harm those who develop dementia.
Identifying Early Signs
Take note if your loved one has begun having problems with:
- Short-term memory, like forgetting to pay bills
- Having problems keeping track of items like their wallet or keys
- Planning or cooking meals
- Forgetting appointments (if this is unusual behavior for them)
Most forms of dementia are progressive and will worsen with time, so don’t ignore small indicators. It’s always best to consult a doctor if you’ve begun noticing signs.
There is always a chance that a treatable condition is behind the symptoms. Even if it’s not, your loved one will benefit from earlier intervention and treatment, and you will have more time to plan together.
Making a Plan for Dementia Care
If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it’s best to start thinking about what’s next as soon as possible. Where they will live, if or when they will move, and who will help are good topics to start with.
You will also need to designate a Power of Attorney (guardian) if you have not done so already, since one day they may not be able to make informed decisions for themselves. To gain POA, you’ll need to prove your loved one is incapacitated and your own ability to be a competent guardian.
As you make plans, don’t forget to include your loved ones in the conversation as much as possible and try not to get too frustrated by their confusion or resistance. It’s overwhelming to not know if or when you can’t take care of yourself. As with most difficult conversations, compassion and patience are always the best approaches.
Get Help Finding Care with CarePatrol
With so many options for senior care out there, choosing the right one for your family isn't always easy. At CarePatrol, our senior care advisors are here to help when things feel overwhelming. At no cost to you, your local CarePatrol advisor will assess your loved one's needs and match you with recommended local memory care communities. They can accompany you on tours, help you narrow down your options, go over your budget, and so much more.
CarePatrol: Your Local Partner in Memory Care
Memory care is often the best option for people who are living with dementia. Each person’s experience with the disease is unique, and your loved one deserves to find a care provider that can meet their needs and preferences. To get started exploring the best memory care and dementia care options near you, find your nearest CarePatrol today!