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A Guide to Managing Dementia Symptoms and Improving Quality of Life

As we age, it is normal for our brain function to gradually decline, and we can start to become forgetful. However, it is not normal when we start to develop memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion

Dementia is a common neurological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, causing a range of cognitive and physical symptoms that can impair daily life activities. While there is no cure for dementia, there are ways to manage the symptoms and improve quality of life for both the person with dementia and their caregiver. This blog post will provide a comprehensive guide to your path to dementia peace, including the stages of dementia, common symptoms, risk factors, and effective strategies for managing the condition.

Dementia Statistics:

Alzheimer's disease is a global health crisis that affects millions of people and their families. According to the Alzheimer's Association's 2023 Facts and Figures report, the statistics are alarming:

  • An estimated 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and this number is expected to triple by 2050. And most of these people live in underdeveloped nations.

  • In the United States alone, there are over 6 million people living with Alzheimer's disease.

  • Every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops dementia.

  • Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer's disease, representing nearly two-thirds of those living with the disease. 

  • Women are disproportionately the caregivers of a person living with dementia. 

  • Alzheimer's disease is the 6th leading cause of death globally and the 5th leading cause of death in people over the age of 65 in the United States.

  • Caregivers of people with dementia provide an estimated 82 billion hours of unpaid care each year, valued at over $1 trillion… ⅔ are women…

What is Dementia?

The term “Dementia” is derived from the Latin word "de-mentis," which means "out of your mind." It is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities. Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a general term that refers to a decline in cognitive function that interferes with daily life.

Dementia can be caused by a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, vascular dementia, and others. The symptoms of dementia can vary depending on the underlying cause, but commonly include memory loss, confusion, difficulty with language and communication, and changes in mood and behavior.

While dementia is a challenging and often devastating condition, it is important to remember that individuals with dementia can still experience joy, connection, and meaning in their lives. With appropriate support and care, it is possible to help a loved one with dementia stay at home, without sacrificing your own life and health. 

It is important to note that dementia is not a normal part of aging, and it is not something that can be cured. However, early detection and treatment can help manage symptoms and improve overall quality of life. 

Stages of Dementia

Dementia is a progressive condition that can worsen over time, leading to a decline in cognitive and physical abilities. There are many different staging tools for dementia. 

One, the Functional Assessment Staging (FAST) tool is a commonly used measure of dementia progression that categorizes individuals into seven stages based on their level of cognitive and functional impairment. 

Other staging tools group people into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe dementia.

Early Stage of  Dementia

The first two stages of the FAST tool fall under mild dementia. In stage one, individuals may experience forgetfulness and difficulty with complex tasks. They may also have difficulty with social situations and become increasingly withdrawn. In stage two, memory impairment becomes more pronounced and individuals may have difficulty with basic self-care tasks, such as bathing and dressing. In the early stages of dementia, the person may experience mild cognitive impairment, such as memory loss and difficulty completing familiar tasks. They may also have trouble with language, communication, and decision-making, leading to frustration and confusion.

Middle Stage of  Dementia

Stages three through five fall under moderate dementia. In stage three, individuals may become disoriented to time and place and have difficulty with basic math and money management. In stage four, individuals may lose the ability to perform tasks independently and require assistance with activities of daily living, such as eating and using the restroom. In stage five, individuals may experience significant memory loss and confusion, and may require assistance with dressing and toileting. 

As dementia progresses into the middle stage, the person may have more severe symptoms, such as difficulty with coordination, mobility, and daily activities. They may also experience mood changes, such as depression, anxiety, and aggression, and may require more assistance with daily tasks.

Late Stage of  Dementia

Stages six and seven are classified as severe dementia. In stage six, individuals may lose the ability to recognize loved ones and may require assistance with all activities of daily living. They may also experience significant behavioral changes, such as agitation or aggression. In stage seven, individuals may lose the ability to speak and may become bedridden, requiring around-the-clock care. 

In the late stages of dementia, the person's cognitive and physical abilities may decline significantly, and they may become fully dependent on caregivers for daily care. They may also experience significant changes in behavior and communication abilities, making it challenging for caregivers to provide adequate care.

While the stages of dementia are helpful to give us a starting point, it is important to remember that individuals with dementia can and do surprise us, sometimes going back and forth between different “stages”. 

I always try to remember, we are all unique individuals, created in the image of God. And that, even “normal” people’s cognitive abilities fluctuate daily. (Think about when you are sick, you don’t “think” as well as other days, right?)

Common Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia can cause a range of symptoms, depending on the type of dementia and the stage of the condition. Some common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss

  • Difficulty with language and communication

  • Trouble with decision-making and problem-solving

  • Mood changes, such as depression, anxiety, and aggression

  • Difficulty with coordination and mobility

  • Changes in behavior, such as wandering or agitation

Risk Factors for Dementia

There are several risk factors for dementia, some of which are modifiable, and some are not. Some common risk factors for dementia include:

  • Age

  • Genetics

  • Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise

  • Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease

  • Head injuries

Managing Dementia Symptoms

While there is no cure for dementia, there are ways to manage the symptoms and improve quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers. Some effective strategies for managing dementia symptoms include:

Creating a Safe Environment

People with dementia may have difficulty with mobility, coordination, and balance, increasing the risk of falls and injuries. Creating a safe and supportive environment can help prevent accidents and injuries, such as installing grab bars, removing clutter, and securing rugs and carpets.

Providing Mental Stimulation

Mental stimulation can help keep the brain active and improve cognitive function in people with dementia. Some effective ways to provide mental stimulation include playing games, solving puzzles, and engaging in conversation. Remember, your person living with dementia may still desire to do things, but may have lost the ability to initiate doing things on their own. 

Encouraging Physical Activity

Physical activity can improve mobility, coordination, and overall health in people with dementia

Managing Behavioral Changes

People with dementia may experience changes in behavior, such as aggression, agitation, and wandering. Caregivers can help manage these behavioral changes by providing a calm and supportive environment, using distraction techniques, and addressing any underlying physical or emotional issues.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet can improve overall health and well-being in people with dementia, reducing the risk of chronic health conditions and improving cognitive function. Caregivers should ensure that the person with dementia is getting a balanced and nutritious diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

Building a Support Network

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, and caregivers may experience feelings of isolation, stress, and burnout. Building a support network of family, friends, and healthcare professionals can help caregivers manage the caregiving responsibilities and maintain their own health and well-being.

Your Dementia Peace Path

The dementia peace path is a comprehensive approach to managing dementia symptoms and improving quality of life for both the person with dementia and their caregiver. The peace path includes several key steps:

Person Living With Dementia

We need to de-stigmatize cognitive loss and cognitive impairment. Early detection and diagnosis of dementia can help identify the type of dementia and develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses the person's unique symptoms and needs. We need to always consider the person living with dementia first when we are dealing with challenging behaviors. Consider basic needs first, become a dementia detective. Look, listen and learn from your person living with dementia! They are telling you what they need, it is our job to figure it out. 

Environment of Care

When trying to find a dementia peace path, and things are not going the way we would hope, consider looking at the environment of care. Is it too noisy? Is it too quiet? Is it too cold? Is it too hot? Consider all environmental factors when looking for your dementia peace. You may be filtering out the unbalanced ceiling fan, the television, the dishwasher- but your loved one may not be able to!

Showing them how to make meals in minutes.

Activity Engagement

We are all created in the image of God, which means we are created to be creative, to communicate and engage in our environment. As I write this today, it is a Saturday. Think about all the activities or tasks you have done on a Saturday that you enjoy doing. Now imagine I told you that you can NEVER AGAIN do any of the activities that you have always enjoyed doing. You can’t read, or play with your kids, grand kids, go to the movies, cook, garden or just sit holding someone’s hand. How does that make you feel? 

People living with dementia still have the desire to engage in their environment, to actively participate in their world. They are still here, they are still alive. They are still living. 

It just looks different. And they may need us to engage them in their world. Many people with dementia lose their ability to initiate activity engagement. 

When your dementia day is not peaceful and smooth, look and consider, is your person living with dementia bored, or overstimulated? 

Care Partner Impact

Care partners can either make or break your dementia peace path. And that means me and you. Our loved ones with dementia become what I call an “emotional sponge”. They will take on the energy and the mood of the people around them.

The best way to have a peaceful dementia day is by always checking your own mood. I know, when I have a bad day, so does my person living with dementia! The best care partner is the “go with the flow”, “nutty” care partner. 

You got this!

Hand of an elderly woman in the garden of a nursing home or retirement home playing with games to improve the mobility of the hands smiling | |Activities

Conclusion

Dementia is a challenging condition that can have a significant impact on daily life activities for both the person with dementia and their care partner. However, with a comprehensive approach to managing symptoms and improving quality of life, it is possible to achieve your dementia peace path. If you want more help, please join me at my next workshop on May 25, 2023. You can register here: “From Overwhelmed To Empowered: A Workshop For Daughter of Dementia”

FAQs

Is dementia a normal part of aging?

No, dementia is not a normal part of aging. While memory loss and cognitive decline can occur as people age, dementia is a neurological disorder that can cause significant impairment in daily life activities.

Can dementia be cured?

It depends on who you ask! The medical model states there is no cure for dementia, but there are ways to manage the symptoms and improve quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers. When you read about holistic approaches, there is data to support that we can significantly impact dementia. I will leave it up to you to decide.

What are some common types of dementia?

Common types of dementia include Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia.

Can lifestyle changes help manage dementia symptoms?

Yes, lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and mental stimulation, can help improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of chronic health conditions.

What is the role of caregiver support in managing dementia?

Caregiver support is crucial in managing dementia symptoms and maintaining the caregiver's health and well-being. Caregivers should build a support network of family, friends, and healthcare professionals, and take advantage of respite care and other resources as needed.

Read More:

One Mistake A Dementia Caregiver Makes By Not Traveling With Kathy Smith Shoaf

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About the author

“Think Different” Dementia’s owner, Lizette Cloete, OTR/L graduated as an Occupational Therapist from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1992. Lizette has almost 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist in a variety of settings, the latest being in the home health environment. She enjoys teaching on the topic of dementia, most recently presenting at a national conference on the topic “Dementia Made Simple”.

Disclaimer: These blogs, videos and any work done by Lizette Cloete OT, as a Member of Think Different Dementia, LLC, is given only as educational content and consulting work. This does not create an Occupational Therapist-Patient Relationship. The educational content and consulting work performed should not be considered medical treatment as an Occupational Therapist. The consulting work does not take the place of medical work normally performed by a licensed Occupational Therapist. Please consult a licensed Occupational Therapist for medical advice.

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