Normal Aging or Dementia?
Forgetfulness does not equal dementia.
Misplaced car keys are going to happen. Likewise, skipping a dose of medication is not necessarily cause for concern.
There are, however, key warning signs to consider if you are concerned that a loved one might be among the 5.8 million Americans, including nearly 300,000 Arkansans, living with Alzheimer’s Disease or another dementia.
We all have “senior moments.” Symptoms of dementia are something else entirely.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks, confusion about time and place and problems with speech and vocabulary are causes for concern. 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 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 attune 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 are critical to keeping your loved one engaged and staving off isolation and depression.
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/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.
You and your loved one are not alone.
More than 16 million Americans are providing unpaid care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. 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.
Sources: UAMS Centers on Aging, Baptist Parkway Village, Alzheimer’s Arkansas, Alzheimer’s Association.