Take Time to Understand Dementia
When Carolyn Berry misplaces her keys, which admittedly happens a lot, she retraces her steps and logically eliminates all places they might be until the keys are found.
Such bouts of forgetfulness are going to happen, said Berry, executive director of the Arkansas Alzheimer’s Association. When people age, however, their response to such a setback might be a warning sign for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.
“Someone with dementia might say ‘I think someone came in and took my keys,’” Berry said. “Or ‘Someone took my keys from me and put them somewhere.’”
That lack of focus, the inability to use logic or reason, could mean a loved one is among the 6.2 million Americans 65 and older, including more than 300,000 Arkansans, experiencing Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
Repeating the same story or question, difficulty with everyday tasks, difficulty joining or maintaining a conversation, getting lost, personality changes, confusion about time and place or troubling behavior like neglecting grooming or poor judgement in handling money can all be warning signs of the onset of a dementia, said Jeanne Wei, executive director of UAMS’ Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatrics.
It is important to note that the more intelligent a person is, the easier it will be for them to mask symptoms. Changes in personality and behavior are important signals that a loved one is struggling with brain function.
Identifying a memory-related illness is just one step in the journey to provide care and comfort.
Talk to Others
Unless you have daily contact with an aging family member, it is possible that others are in a better position to look for warning signs. And that’s OK. Do not rule out the possibility that a coworker, friend or neighbor might be more attuned to abnormal changes in behavior and cognitive function.
If you are concerned, seek medical help. As with any disease, early detection is important in developing a treatment plan and finding ways to improve quality of life.
Suffering from dementia can often lead a person to withdraw from activities that have previously been important. Social isolation can lead to depression, which causes additional challenges in care.
Engaging in physical and mental activities, combined with healthy eating, can lower the risks of dementia and can keep your loved one, if suffering from dementia, engaged and stave off isolation and depression.
“When you think about taking care of your body it takes care of your brain,” Berry said.
Communication is Key
When caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, you must pay attention to how you communicate.
Avoid multitasking. Keep distraction to a minimum when communicating with someone who is battling dementia. Put away your phone. Turn off the TV or radio and make sure you are fully dialed into the conversation.
Keep it simple. Processing communication can be difficult for someone coping with dementia-related illness. Speak slowly and understand that repetition, while frustrating to you, can be beneficial to the other person. Ask “yes” or “no” questions.
Don’t argue. What your loved one is saying might be incorrect. It might be hurtful. But that person often does not understand and cannot control what they are saying. Correcting or arguing is not helpful.
Tone matters. Anger and irritation will still register, even if a person doesn’t recognize you and has trouble processing what you are saying. Stay patient.
There are close to 180,000 people providing unpaid care for Alzheimer's and dementia victims in Arkansas.
Support and counseling are available no matter what region of the state you call home. Alzheimer’s Arkansas offers a 24-hour support hotline for caregivers and support groups that meet statewide. UAMS, through the Walker Memory Center, can help identify causes of memory loss and necessary steps for treatment. UAMS also offers one-on-one caregiver training for Arkansans struggling to care for loved ones with dementia and other memory-related illnesses.
Caring for yourself is critical when caring for someone else becomes your responsibility.
“Bottom line is we, all of us, we need to talk about it because we need to help one another,” Wei said.
Sources: UAMS Centers on Aging, Baptist Parkway Village, Alzheimer’s Arkansas, Alzheimer’s Association, cdc.gov.
Some of the more popular, dementia-fighting activies recommended for seniors include:
Crosswords and sudoku, Scrabble, card games, chess and checkers, board games, puzzles, online video and digital games.
Reading and Writing
Daily reading, book clubs, journaling, writing a memoir and handwriting cards and letters.
Arts and Crafts
Painting and drawing, sewing and needlepoint, woodworking, scrapbooks and albums, holiday crafts, jewelry making and compiling recipes.
Learning New Skills
Taking a class, learning a language, photography, new technologies, online lectures and programs and birdwatching.
Music and Dancing
Listening to music, singing, learning or playing an instrument, dancing, attending music programs and planning a music session with others.
Walking, stretching, yoga and tai chi, chair yoga, online exercise classes, dog walking and gardening.