Once upon a time, it was called senility and thought to be a natural consequence of getting older. Today, we call it dementia and know that serious mental decline does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with increasing age. Nonetheless, nearly 6 million people in the U.S. suffer from some form of dementia, most of whom are 65 and older.
The most commonly diagnosed form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The second-leading cause of dementia is vascular disease, usually in the form of a stroke.
Being forgetful doesn’t, by itself, mean dementia. By definition, a patient must experience significant deficiencies in two core mental functions for a dementia diagnosis to be made.
• Memory impairment
• Difficulty communicating and using language skills
• Inability to focus and pay attention
• Difficulty reasoning and using judgment
• Disturbances in visual perception
The important concept here is that the impairments must be significant – to the point that they interfere with activities of daily living. Symptoms of dementia should be brought to your doctor’s attention immediately for two reasons. First, some disease processes, including vitamin deficiency and thyroid problems, can cause dementia-like symptoms. These conditions are completely curable.
Secondly, while there is no cure for dementia, early intervention, in the form of medications and other treatments, can slow the progression of the disease and help the individual and family prepare for the future.
Dementia is a progressive disease
The symptoms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, worsen over time, although the rate at which the disease progresses varies from person to person. On average, individuals live four to eight years following diagnosis, although some patients have lived as long as 20 years.
Long before symptoms begin to appear, changes start to take place in the brain. This time is known as preclinical Alzheimer’s. Although every patient is different, the following stages provide a general guideline of what to expect.
In the early stages, the individual may continue to function independently, holding a job, driving and participating social activities. He or she may be aware of memory lapses, have difficulty remembering familiar words and the names of new people, and may have trouble remembering where things are. These problems may be noticeable to those close to the individual.
Moderate Alzheimer’s disease
During this stage, the patient may have increasing difficulty performing everyday tasks, such as paying their bills, remembering to turn off lights, or knowing what day it is. Confusion, frustration, anger and unexpected behavior occur as continuing damage to brain cells make it increasingly difficult for them to perform routine tasks and express their thoughts.
This stage usually lasts the longest – often for many years. The patient begins to lose pieces of themselves, forgetting events in their own lives, where they live, their telephone number, etc. As they progress through moderate Alzheimer’s, they will need increasing levels of care and supervision as they may wander or become lost, forget to turn off the stove, leave cigarettes burning, and so on.
Severe Alzheimer’s disease
At this stage, the individual loses the ability to connect with their loved ones and the environment around them. Controlling body movements becomes difficult. The individual may be able to speak, but often the words make no sense. Memory and thinking continue to worsen and significant personality changes occur. Individuals in late-stage Alzheimer’s frequently need round-the-clock care.
Late-stage Alzheimer’s disease is hard on the patient, their family and friends. It is at this stage that many are faced with making difficult decisions. For this reason, it’s important for families and those with Alzheimer’s to discuss the patient’s wishes concerning end-of-life care in advance. Decisions will still be difficult, but families often feel a sense of relief knowing they are carrying out their loved one’s true wishes.
Caring for someone you love who has dementia can be extremely difficult. But you don’t have to go it alone. Regency Memory Care in Mount Sterling offers state-of-the-art, compassionate care. Regency staff develop close, caring relationships with each resident and provide the type of loving care one would only expect to find in a home setting.
To learn more about the highly individualized care provided to every resident at Regency, visit the website at RCMemoryCare.com. Or call Regency at (859) 520-5111 to schedule a visit.
Regency Memory Care is located at 130 Mount Sterling Way in Mount Sterling, Ky.