Are you a senior whose forgetfulness is becoming worrisome? As you or a loved one gets older, you might be concerned that simple lapses in memory might point to a serious health problem. Dementia is a complex diagnosis that can be upsetting and overwhelming for elderly people and their family members.
Recognizing dementia can be complicated, however. Many people lump all dementia symptoms under Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are more than 50 medical conditions that can simulate or lead to symptoms of dementia.
It’s important to recognize signs of dementia. Doing so can help you distinguish the problem from other health concerns. Moreover, symptoms can be treatable—or even reversible—if dementia is diagnosed early. Identifying the signs of dementia can also help you use your resources and make the best choices for comprehensive health care services, such as, such as Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E.
Does Everyone Get Dementia?
Some people erroneously refer to dementia as senility, indicating that it is a normal part of the aging process. Some cognitive changes happen as everyone gets older, but they’re not always associated with decline. For example, vocabulary doesn’t seem to change with age and can improve over time.
Processing speed and psychomotor abilities, however, peak in your 30s. As processing speed gradually slows down after the third decade of life, other cognitive functions, such as attention, memory and executive function may be affected. Still, a gradual decline in these areas is not equivalent to dementia.
Dementia is a group of symptoms that include cognitive dysfunction. It can be caused by a specific disease, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Dementia can also be caused by hormonal fluctuations or nutritional deficiencies.
While everyone may lose their keys from time to time, all seniors will not develop dementia. Those that do may need home care services if their condition is not reversible.
What Are the Symptoms of Dementia?
How To Spot Dementia
A diagnosis of dementia can be made when at least two of the following mental functions are considerably impaired:
- Memory – Short-term recall, remembering appointments, keeping track of personal items
- Communication – Confusing word meanings, speaking incoherently, problems understanding others
- Attention and focus – Difficulty concentrating, trouble following through on tasks, switching rapidly from one activity to another
- Judgment and rational thought – Making inappropriate decisions, problems evaluating factors that go into decision-making
- Visual perception – Hallucinations, depth perception issues, misidentifying people or objects
Many dementias progress through seven stages of severity. Even in most of the early stages, dementia can interfere with complex tasks. If the condition worsens, it can impair simple, day-to-day functions.
People with moderately severe dementia may need help using the bathroom, feeding themselves or putting on clothes. Senior home care may be important for these people because they don’t want to live in an unfamiliar place, but they have trouble taking care of themselves. Eventually, those with severe dementia may not be able to walk, sit up, smile or hold their heads erect.
What Causes Dementia?
Damage to brain cells contributes to dementia. This may happen from an injury or vascular problem. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are the leading causes of dementia because they involve neural degeneration. As communication signals within the central nervous system are impaired, thoughts, behaviors and emotions are affected.
Some rare diseases, such as Huntington’s disease and frontotemporal lobar degeneration, cause dementia. The disorder may also be caused by infectious agents that strike the nervous system, such as AIDS, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and neurosyphilis.
What Conditions Are Not Dementia?
Sometimes, health issues can look like dementia, but they don’t involve brain cell damage. For example, delirium can occur after surgery, due to an injury or when someone withdraws from certain substances, such as alcohol.
The cognitive changes associated with delirium come on suddenly, and consciousness may vacillate from drowsy to alert. With dementia, mental decline happens gradually. Dementia doesn’t usually influence your level of wakefulness.
Depression can also be confused with dementia because it can make you forgetful, disoriented and unable to make decisions. It can even make you move slower and lose coordination. With this type of pseudodementia, the symptoms of depression usually come on before cognitive decline appears.
People who struggle with this condition may notice that they’re losing cognitive function and complain about memory and concentration issues. Alzheimer’s can lead to depression too. In cases of Alzheimer’s-related depression, the mental lapses typically appear first.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may affect up to 15 percent of people over age 60. The first symptoms are often confusion and irritability, and the deficiency is often overlooked because it presents itself in a similar manner as dementia. It is usually accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and numbness or tingling in the extremities.
Thyroid problems and side effects from medication can also look like dementia. All of these causes are reversible. Treating the underlying condition usually resolves the cognitive problems.
How Does Dementia Affect Caregivers?
Most people with dementia need some type of senior home care. They may require a caregiver to be present with them for a majority of the day and night. They might need assistance with routine tasks or gentle reminders to avoid becoming confused.
Loneliness can set in for patients with dementia as well as their caregivers. Seniors with cognitive decline issues may not remember their friends, making it difficult to maintain a social circle. Caregivers can spend so much time looking after their loved ones that they neglect their personal and interpersonal needs.
Respite care for seniors provides a solution. Patients can take part in adult day care services a few days a week, interacting with others, sharing meals and being entertained with enjoyable activities. Caregivers can take a break and practice some self-care.
Making an Official Dementia Diagnosis
Diagnosing dementia can be tricky. In the early stages, symptoms may be as minor as back pain or problems remembering things. People who are already extroverted may begin making inappropriate remarks or have awkward social interactions. Some individuals start giving money away or neglect their personal hygiene.
Because mild cognitive issues can be normal parts of the aging process, getting a professional assessment is important. A physician can run tests and help you track your symptoms. Objective neuropsychological memory tests often reveal mental decline associated with dementia.
Whether the dementia is reversible or irreversible, the person suffering from the condition should receive care from professionals who understand. At Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E., the team of medical doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, therapists and social workers knows how to help its clients with dementia live their best lives. We offer comprehensive medical care and many other services for older adults that need extra assistance.
Contact Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E. to find out how our comprehensive programs can help you or a loved one who has dementia.