Dementia among seniors: understand in order to better help
Dementia among seniors: everyone is familiar with this term, but its definition often remains vague for most of us. If you have an elderly loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia, it is natural to try to better understand what dementia in seniors is. What exactly is it? Is it the same as Alzheimer’s disease in your opinion? What are the symptoms in everyday life? Does it only affect the elderly? Do we know the causes that lead to dementia? In order to fully understand what is now recognized more as a syndrome, rather than a disease, it is important to get a good picture of it. The goal is to see what can be done to prevent it. It is also possible, at the same time, to identify what solutions are available to better help people with dementia, including our seniors.
What is dementia among seniors: a short definition
In order to get a good picture of dementia, it is first pertinent to understand the notion that it should not be seen as a disease in itself. Rather, it represents a condition that groups together a set of symptoms. All of them are related to an alteration in the functions of the brain. Dementia in the elderly is characterized by, among other things, a decrease in memory capacity, but also in reasoning, the ability to perform daily tasks, as well as by several other signs and symptoms.
Good to know:
Experts most often describe dementia as a syndrome. The term major neurodegenerative disorder is also widely used. Even though it is not a disease in itself, several diseases can lead to it. We will see the main causes a little later.
A normal aging process?
Even if it is true that a small portion of cognitive functions diminish naturally with age, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. In fact, it has been proven that many seniors will never show signs or symptoms despite their advanced age. However, it is true that seniors are the ones most affected by this syndrome. For those who may be interested, here are some useful facts about dementia in Canada.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: are they the same thing?
It is easy to confuse dementia among seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is important to recognize that there is an important distinction between the two. Suffering from dementia does not necessarily mean that one has Alzheimer’s. Conversely, it can be argued that a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease has a form of dementia.
Indeed, Alzheimer’s disease is identified as the main cause of dementia. According to the WHO, it is responsible for approximately 60 to 70% of cases.
The different symptoms of dementia
Just as there are many causes of dementia, the symptoms are also very different from one person to another. In any case, it is important to remember that all of these symptoms will affect the autonomy of the person, elderly or not, who has dementia.
Summary of the most frequent symptoms
Memory loss is undoubtedly at the top of the list. However, other important symptoms should not be ignored. These include
- Memory problems;
- greater difficulty in remaining attentive and concentrating
- impaired judgment;
- decreased ability to reason
- language and communication problems
- the development of behavioural problems;
- a change in the person’s social skills;
- a decrease in visual perception;
- and other signs affecting the ability to perform daily activities.
Recognizing the signs in a senior loved one’s daily life
You may be asking yourself, “But how can I recognize these signs in my elderly mother or father, for example? These changes in cognitive abilities are mostly reflected in the difficulty of performing tasks that were once easy.
We have put together a few concrete signs associated with dementia in seniors that may raise questions. We have put together some concrete signs associated with dementia in your loved one that may raise questions, and that you should pay special attention to.
- Does your loved one tend to forget more things lately?
- Does he or she sometimes forget the names of friends or family members?
- Is his or her perception of time becoming more difficult in everyday life?
- Does your elderly loved one become disoriented (spatially) more easily? Does he or she tend to get lost?
- Have you noticed any changes in language and communication skills? The senior may be searching for words in order to express themselves well.
- Has the behaviour of an older person in your life changed lately?
- Are everyday tasks becoming more difficult?
If you notice any of these signs, consider notifying the attending physician or other health care professional. A proper investigation can then be done accordingly. Of course, sometimes these signs are benign and of no consequence. However, if a diagnosis of dementia is to be made, it is best to do so early. Your vigilance can greatly help your loved one.
Understanding the causes
As mentioned earlier, dementia in the elderly is not a disease in itself but rather a consequence of several other health problems. Thus, the causes are diverse. In some cases, no specific cause can be identified: this is called a primary brain disorder.
Alzheimer’s disease is undoubtedly the most frequent and best known cause. The onset of symptoms is gradual in most cases. Among the other causes, we find :
- Lewy body dementia;
- Vascular dementia (due to repetitive damage to the brain by strokes);
- Frontotemporal dementia;
- advanced Parkinson’s disease;
- HIV-associated dementia;
- certain head injuries or brain tumors;
- Huntington’s disease;
- prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (better known as mad cow disease but which occurs in human form);
- certain medications;
- alcohol or drug abuse;
In all cases, understanding the cause can help the next step. The more informed you are about your health or the health of your loved ones, the better you can guide the medical team to the right care.
Diagnosing and treating dementia among seniors
The diagnosis of dementia should of course not be taken lightly. This diagnosis must be made by a physician. He will reach this verdict after a complete evaluation of his patient which includes a medical questionnaire and a clinical examination (physical and cognitive). Laboratory tests or medical images are sometimes used to complete the process. We suggest that you have complete confidence in the health professionals who will take care of your elderly loved one in such a situation. He or she will be in good hands!
At this time, there is no cure for major degenerative disorders (dementia) as such. However, don’t lose hope! Research is being done to find the best cures for this cognitive problem. Also, if you are told that your elderly parent has some form of dementia, there are ways to help! There are medications and complementary treatments that can help relieve the person, reduce symptoms and improve comfort. The medical team will undoubtedly suggest the best treatment plans for an optimal quality of life for any person, old or young, who may be suffering from dementia.
What can be done to help?
We know how dementia can interfere with the daily activities of the senior who has it. Whether a senior is still living at home or in a retirement home, his or her daily life can be affected. As a result, our first instinct as a family member is to wonder what we can do to help with this problem. Fortunately, despite the absence of an absolute remedy, some interesting solutions are worth considering.
Prevention: a priority!
As with any health problem, there is always a place for prevention! Since there is no cure for dementia, anything that can be done to prevent the onset of this problem should be a priority.
Among the preventive elements, it seems that adopting good lifestyle habits can help. These include regular physical activity, choosing a healthy and balanced diet and avoiding smoking.
In addition to daily physical activity, specialists also recommend staying active and intellectually stimulated. It is therefore important to continue doing an activity that you enjoy and that will help you keep your cognitive functions intact.
Giving importance to all the elements of one’s overall health would also be a tool to prevent the onset of dementia in seniors. In fact, certain health problems that are not well controlled can precipitate the onset of symptoms. In this sense, do not hesitate to call your doctor if you have the slightest doubt.
Finally, it is fair to say that prevention also means being well prepared, just in case. For example, having good discussions about the future with your parents, who are getting older, can avoid many problems. They will be able to make an informed decision in the event of future health concerns. If you’re interested, here are some tips for discussing the future with your elderly loved ones.
Providing an appropriate environment to stimulate the senior with dementia
The environment in which a senior with dementia lives is a key factor. It is essential to aim for a safe, well-organized living environment that is also reassuring to the person.
1- A safe environment
With the onset of symptoms and the eventual loss of certain abilities, it is imperative that the senior’s living space be designed to be safe. Safety means thinking about everyday tasks that could become dangerous for our loved one. For some, this will be driving, while for others it will be taking the stairs or using the stove, for example. The main idea is to prevent unfortunate accidents.
2- A well-organized living environment
The organization of the living space of a senior with cognitive disorders, whether it is Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, is a real issue. In this sense, it is possible to help your loved one adapt his or her environment. This can be done by setting up a reminder system, a large calendar, an alarm or any other trick to prevent forgetfulness.
3- A reassuring environment
A familiar place that is designed according to the person’s habits makes daily life much easier. Routine plays an important role for a senior with dementia. As much as possible, it is better to avoid major changes in the life of our loved ones. That’s why home care is often the preferred option, in order to remain in a familiar environment.
It is encouraging to see that concrete actions can be taken to help a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia! The involvement of all family members, when the situation allows, can also make daily life easier.
Home Care: A solution to dementia among seniors who wish to remain at home
Continuing to live at home provides a stability that can be very valuable for a senior who has experienced some signs of dementia. As mentioned earlier, it is recommended that the environment be as reassuring and familiar as possible for the person. To do this, home care is often the preferred option. This choice also makes it possible to maintain a certain level of independence and autonomy.
Depending on the specific needs of each person, various home care services can be offered. These services include
- daily assistance with household chores ;
- accompaniment to outings such as medical appointments
- personal care at home such as hygiene, grooming, dressing, etc;
- preparation of meals;
- and much more, depending on the needs of each senior.
To learn more about customized home care for seniors in any situation, we invite you to contact our experienced Visavie counselors. They take the time to listen to you, answer your questions and then direct you to the right resources. Our professional caregivers are both qualified and caring, and they in turn ensure that your loved ones receive the comprehensive home care they need. At Visavie, we believe in the importance of personalized home care. Our approach will therefore be adapted to each individual’s situation.