According to Mayo Clinic, the term dementia “describes a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.”
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells and affects thinking, behavior and feelings. Symptoms of dementia can vary greatly. For a diagnosis of dementia, at least two of these core mental functions must be significantly impaired:
- Communication and language.
- Ability to focus and pay attention.
- Reasoning and judgment.
- Visual perception.
Dementia is not a specific disease and is not a normal part of aging, although age and genetics are risk factors. A decline in memory and other thinking skills are symptoms that can be caused by depression, medication side effects, excessive use of alcohol, thyroid problems, and vitamin deficiencies. In these cases the decline may be reversed when the underlying condition is treated or addressed.
In our culture, where stigma of aging and dementia is widespread, decline in memory or other thinking skills is a sensitive issue. Often elderly people or their family members hide or simply ignore symptoms, when early diagnosis could enable treatment for conditions that are reversible and enable a higher quality of life for conditions which are not.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of reported cases. Vascular dementia related to a stroke is the second most common type.
When observing for signs of dementia that may point to Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult to distinguish warning signs from typical lapses in memory. The following list of warning signs from the Alzheimer’s Association will help.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
A Typical Lapse
||Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later|
||Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook|
||Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show|
||Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later|
||Vision changes related to cataracts|
||Sometimes having trouble finding the right word|
||Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control, and retracing steps to find them|
||Making a bad decision once in a while|
||Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations|
||Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted|
Making a decision about whether it is time for assisted living can be emotionally unsettling and complex, or it can be an adventure. Of course, assisted living is not the best choice for everyone. Answering these questions in sequence may help you to decide:
- Is it possible to live safely, happily, and independently at home with minimal care from family and friends?
- Will living at home work with modifications to the living space and/or additional help from home care services?
- Will either of the above options work by moving to share a home with someone else?
- Is it time for assisted living?
- Is it time for assisted living with Alzheimer’s and dementia care?
We trust reading this series of articles, searching additional resources, and consulting health care professionals will give you tools to arrive at a well informed and more rational answer to these questions. We also trust you will arrive at a decision with optimism and hope.