Dementia is the term given to a range of symptoms that affect the brain and are caused by a variety of diseases. Since elderly people suffer from the diseases implicated in dementia, it is the most common reason for people to be admitted to a nursing home. Dementia presents itself as a decline of memory, reasoning and other cognitive functions. Short and long-term memory loss is evident; patients display a decline in their language, mathematical, problem-solving and abstract reasoning abilities. Many dementia patients are unable to function independently and the quality of their life and relationships is diminished. Family members or those caring for elderly people should be aware of the following early signs of dementia:
- Marked loss of short-term memory
- Behavior or personality changes
- Inappropriate or uncharacteristic behavior
- Depressed mood
- Marked mood swings
- Inability to carry out basic tasks
- Carelessness in personal hygiene
- Persistent word-finding difficulty
- Persistent poor judgment
- Confusion and disorientation
- Inability to manage personal finances
Many medical conditions can cause dementia symptoms and in some cases it can be treated or managed. However, in cases where dementia is a symptom of diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, the damage is permanent and irreversible. In addition, different diseases affect different parts of the brain, making management of the symptoms that much more complicated.
Alzheimer’s patients suffer memory and mental function losses. Vascular dementia, which is associated with heart and vascular conditions including high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, affects different areas in the brain depending on which area has had depleted oxygen supply. Parkinson’s disease affects reasoning ability, memory, speech and judgment. Lewy body dementia affects thinking, attention and concentration. Huntington’s disease patients experience personality changes as well as reasoning, memory, speech and judgment impairment.
In the following cases, dementia can be treated:
- head injury
- brain tumors
- toxic exposure
- metabolic disorders
- hormone disorders
- poor oxygenation
- drug reactions (overuse or abuse)
- nutritional deficiencies
- chronic alcoholism
Caring for dementia patients
Nursing homes should offer:
- occupational therapy to assist dementia sufferers in their daily activities
- physical therapy to enable them to move independently or with appropriate equipment
- music and art activities to encourage creativity and relaxation
- respite care
Most important, the home and staff should be geared toward dealing with dementia patients. Agitation is the most common trigger for dementia episodes. Therefore it is critical that dementia patients have a feeling of security or control.
Dementia sufferers require a structured, repetitious daily routine. Giving one-step instructions or asking simple questions is very important in holding their attention. Consistency is essential in keeping them orientated, wherefore clocks, bulletin boards, regulated meals, fluid intake and medication are crucial. Many patients suffer from incontinence which should be appropriately managed. Dementia patients should be surrounded by comfortable and familiar things and given safe choices. Most important, they should be treated with the respect they deserve.