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Published on: February 27, 2013
by Tami Doyle for Marion Star:
“If it weren’t for our friend who is a crop duster, we would never have found mom huddled in the middle of the bean field. One minute she was there, the next we had no idea what direction she went since her house is surrounded by corn fields.”
This is the true story of a Marion family who has a mother with dementia. Their mother wandered off when no one was looking and couldn’t remember how to get back.
No cure for Alzheimer’s: There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or for most other causes of dementia. Researchers still do not know how to prevent the disease from occurring, how to stop its progression or how to reverse its effects. Hopefully, more research will make a cure possible. There are a number of drug treatments that can help some people.
Dementia’s effects: Dementia primarily affects older people. People older than 80 have a one in five chance of having dementia. Marion’s population is aging, just like most other places, and we are seeing an increase in people with dementia. One local family doctor stated that four out of every five elderly patients he sees have dementia. Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are responsible for up to 90 percent of dementia cases.
Impact on the family: Family members have the most difficult time dealing with their loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or dementia. This is because they lose the person twice. They first lose them as the loved one loses his or her personality, recent past, ability to make even simple decisions or even the memory of ever being a spouse or parent. The second loss is because of death. The process of losing a loved one is emotionally painful and can have a dramatic affect on the family.
In many cases, the children’s roles are reversed, and now they become the parent. The parent can forget who they are and revert to childhood. The person who raised them from birth now becomes the one who needs taken care of. The children have to make very difficult end-of-life decisions for their parent. The spouse loses the person they wanted to grow old with.
Common symptoms and non-drug treatments: The most common signs or symptoms of dementia are memory loss (especially short-term memory) and the loss of performing familiar tasks. Loss of word recall is another common sign. All of these signs can lead to withdrawal from work or social activities.
Non-drug treatments, including practical and emotional support, are important and effective in helping people with dementia. Although there are no specific preventative measures to recommend, what can be recommended is a healthy lifestyle, eating a healthy diet and staying physically, mentally and socially active. There is increasing research evidence to suggest that having a healthy lifestyle helps to reduce risk.
Diagnosing dementia: A physician can reasonably diagnose dementia by taking a careful history of the person’s problem from a close relative or friend, together with an examination of the person’s physical and mental status. However, conclusive evidence of the disease can only be determined post mortem. When making a diagnosis, it is important to exclude other treatable conditions that cause memory loss such as depression, urinary infection, vitamin deficiency, thyroid deficiency or brain tumor. Cognitive deficits can be detected through the use of proven screening tools such as the “Clock Drawing Test.”
The impact on the individual and family of a dementia diagnosis depends greatly upon how it is made and communicated.
When people with dementia and their families are well prepared and supported, initial feelings of shock, anger and grief are offset to at least some degree by a sense of reassurance and empowerment.
An early diagnosis and assessment of cognitive deficits is helpful, because it:
• enables care givers and people with dementia to be better equipped to deal with the disease progression;
• provides people with an opportunity to make decisions about their financial and legal affairs while they still have the capacity to do so;
• gives people a better chance to benefit from available drug and non-drug therapies that may improve their cognition and enhance their quality of life.
Age and a strong family history of dementia are risk factors with a strong link to dementia. Excessive alcohol consumption, head injury and risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and being overweight also seem to increase the risk dementia. It seems that people who keep their brains active may be at less risk of developing dementia. Reading, engaging in a hobby such as playing bridge or chess, or doing crosswords and word puzzles may help to reduce risk.
The best gift: The best gift a family member can give someone with memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s is to simply “go with the flow.” This means living in the past moments that the loved one is experiencing. It means not trying to correct the loved one in hopes that they will remember the present or recent past. It means learning as much as you can about their past, childhood friends, pets, siblings, grandparents, schooling, jobs, etc., so when the loved one is living in the past, you can live that “perfect moment” with them. Doing this will make visits much easier and enjoyable.
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