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Dementia: What Are the Common Signs?

Info and Advice for Caregivers

What is dementia?

People who have dementia have a problem in the brain that makes it hard for them to remember, learn and communicate. These changes eventually make it hard for them to care for themselves.

Dementia may also cause changes in mood and personality. Early on, lapses in memory and clear thinking may bother the person with dementia. Later, disruptive behavior and other problems can create a burden for caregivers and other family members. The person who has dementia may not be aware of these problems.

Dementia is caused by the destruction of brain cells. A head injury, stroke, brain tumor or disease (such as Alzheimer's disease) can damage brain cells.

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused by the destruction of brain cells. A head injury, a stroke, a brain tumor or a problem like Alzheimer's disease can damage brain cells. Some people have a family history of dementia.

What are some common signs of dementia?

Dementia causes many problems for the person who has it and for the person's family. Many of the problems are due to loss of memory. Some common signs of dementia are listed below. Not everyone who has dementia will have all of these signs.

  • Recent memory loss. All of us forget things for a while and then remember them later. People with dementia often forget things, but they never remember them. They might ask you the same question over and over, each time forgetting that you already answered that question. They won't even remember that they already asked the question.

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks.  People who have dementia might cook a meal but forget to serve it. They might even forget that they cooked it.

  • Problems with language. People who have dementia may forget simple words or use the wrong words. This makes it hard to understand what they want.

  • Time and place disorientation. People who have dementia may get lost on their own street. They may forget how they got to a certain place and how to get back home.

  • Poor judgment. Even a person who doesn't have dementia might get distracted and forget to watch a child closely for a little while. People who have dementia, however, might forget all about the child and just leave the house for the day.

  • Problems with abstract thinking. Anybody might have trouble balancing a checkbook, but people who have dementia may forget what the numbers are and what has to be done with them.

  • Misplacing things. People who have dementia may put things in the wrong places. They might put an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. Then they can't find these things later.

  • Changes in mood.Everyone is moody at times, but people with dementia may have fast mood swings, going from calm to tears to anger in a few minutes.

  • Personality changes.People who have dementia may have drastic changes in personality. They might become irritable, suspicious or fearful.

  • Loss of initiative.People who have dementia may become passive. They might not want to go places or see other people.

How is dementia treated?

Once brain cells have been destroyed, they cannot be replaced. However, some causes of dementia can be treated. This treatment may slow or stop the loss of more brain cells. When the cause of dementia can't be treated, the focus of care is on helping the person with his or her daily activities and reducing upsetting symptoms. Some medicines can help people with dementia. Your family doctor will talk with you about treatment options.

Why do people with dementia become agitated?

The agitation can have many causes. A sudden change in surroundings or frustrating situations can cause people who have dementia to become agitated. For example, if he or she can't get dressed without help or gives the wrong answer to a question it may cause feelings of frustration. Being challenged about his or her confusion or inability to do things may also make the person agitated. As a result, the person may cry, become irritable, or try to hit, kick or hurt you in some way.

How can I deal with agitation?

One of the most important things you can do is avoid situations in which your loved one might become frustrated because he or she fails to remember something or forgets to do something. Try to make your loved one's tasks less difficult. For example, instead of expecting him or her to get dressed alone, you can just have your loved one put on one thing, such as a jacket, on his or her own.

You can also try to limit the number of difficult situations your loved one must face. For example, if taking a bath or shower causes problems, have him or her take one every other day instead of every day. Also, you can schedule difficult activities for a time of day when your loved one tends to be less agitated. It's helpful to give frequent reassurance and avoid contradicting him or her.

What should I do if hallucinations are a problem?

If the hallucinations are not making your loved one scared or anxious, you don't need to do anything. It's better not to confront people about their hallucinations, because you will not be able to convince them that there are no voices or people. Arguing may just upset your loved one. If the hallucinations are scary to your loved one, you can try to distract the person by involving him or her in a pleasant activity.

What if my loved one will not go to sleep at night?

First, try to make the person more aware of what time of day it is. Place clocks where he or she can see them. You can also keep curtains or blinds open so that he or she can tell when it is daytime and when it is nighttime.

Limit the amount of caffeine he or she consumes. Try to help your loved one get some exercise every day. Don't let him or her take too many naps during the day. Be certain that the bedroom is peaceful, since it is easier to sleep in a quiet room. If your loved one has arthritis or another painful condition that interrupts his or her sleep, ask your doctor if it is okay to give your loved one a medicine for pain right before bed.

What if wandering becomes a problem?

Sometimes very simple things can help with this problem. It is all right for your loved one to wander in a safe place, such as in a fenced yard. By providing such a safe place, you may avoid a confrontation. If this doesn't work, remind your loved one not to go out a certain door by placing a stop sign on it or putting a piece of furniture in front of it. A ribbon tied across a door can serve as a similar reminder. Hiding the doorknob by placing a strip of cloth over it may also be helpful.

An alarm system will alert you that your loved one is trying to leave a certain area. Your alarm system may just be a few empty cans tied to a string on the doorknob. You might have to place special locks on the doors, but be aware that such locks might be dangerous if a house fire occurs.

The above opinionated views and information serves to educated and informed consumer .  The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. .It should not replaced professional advise and consultation.  A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions 

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