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December 10, 2018

11/9/2018 2:12:00 PM
Dementia: It's an Umbrella Term
It seems to be at an increasingly often rate that we are seeing people showing signs of Dementia. Dementia is really an umbrella term. There are several different kinds. It's a set of symptoms, rather than a disease. Symptoms can include: vision changes, sensory changes, difficulty problem solving, memory loss, inability to complete simple tasks, issues with words or speaking, and more.
In the last year or so, Dementia has become increasingly common. For a long time, it was commonly believed that Dementia was hereditary. If your grandmother and mother had it, you would likely develop it later in life as well. While there is some truth to this, more recent findings suggest that there is a way to ward off this predisposition. It's a pretty basic concept actually. Anything that affects your brain chemistry, for example, genetics, circulation issues, trauma, all of these things affect your brain, and in turn, can affect your risk factor of experiencing Dementia. The latest research shows that the more you exercise your brain, the less likely you are to experience Dementia. Balancing your brain, making new connections by learning a new skill, socializing, exercising and increasing circulation, are all ways to combat Dementia. Moderating your stress levels and sleeping are also very important to maintain a healthy brain. Our brains are more active in sleep than they are when we are awake. So while there is no cure or way to reverse damage, you have some ability to keep your brain matter from deteriorating, or slow the progression if you are already showing signs.
When it comes to handling people experiencing Dementia, there seems to be a fairly universal disconnect. Learning to better care for those with Dementia starts by taking the time to learn and try to understand what it is they are going through. It's not just memory loss. The brain interprets things very differently, and people then perceive their surroundings differently. People with Dementia can experience hallucinations. Though the reason is unknown, often times these hallucinations are about children or animals. For example, someone living with Dementia hears scratching on the roof. Someone whose brain is functioning normally could make the logical conclusion that since the wind is blowing, the tree branches are scratching on the roof. However, someone who has Dementia may make the conclusion that there are children or animals in their attic, and will respond accordingly and call the police or animal control. They simply lack the rationalization factor that they were once equipped with. People with Dementia often don't realize they are ill. They don't feel sick. People with Dementia can also be transported back decades in time by their hallucinations. This is why at times, they may call you by a different name. Perhaps they won't even recognize you, because you did not exist at the time they are currently present in.
Dementia patients are often categorized as highly emotional or violent. This isn't the case. Well, not really. The person may not have ever been an aggressive person before this disease, and now their family is wondering why they are suddenly displaying acts of violence or becoming easily angered. Think of it this way. There are two bookcases in our brain. One book case holds feelings and one holds memories. For whatever reason, the memories book case fades rapidly in the mind of someone with Dementia, but the feelings book case remains in tact. This results in a heightened sensitivity level. Something might trigger a memory, and while the memory is fuzzy, the feelings are strong. They may not know why they suddenly feel angry about something that just happened, but they remember the feeling. This also makes them more likely to react with the fight or flight. People with dementia are also sensitive to our facial expressions. Their understanding of words begins to fade, so they might not be able to understand what you are explaining to them, but they can see that you have a concerned or angry look on your face, and they will respond accordingly.
Seventy Percent of people living with Dementia are doing so in our community. Not in a long term care facility, they are your neighbors. People are quick to say that someone with Dementia should be placed in a long term care facility right away, however, this isn't always the case. People with Dementia are more than capable of living in their own homes, with the help of their family and community members, until they are physically unable or become dangerous. The most important thing, in order to achieve this, is that the person recognizes the need for help and that they receive the help they need.
In order to keep people in their houses, we need to create a community of understanding and acceptance, rather than a community that ridicules odd behavior and acts without compassion. This starts with educating ourselves. Educate the caregivers. It can be extremely emotionally, mentally, and physically tiring. If we equip them with tips on how to handle the transition between lucid and non lucid moments and deescalate situations before they become violent and give them the resources they need to provide care, it creates a better situation for all involved.
One way we can better care for those who have dementia is to understand them. This is your quiet, sweet grandma, your usually mild mannered neighbor, not a violent angry person. Violence or yelling and profanity are the result of a person who is in distress and no longer has access to the parts of their brain that would help them express their emotions appropriately. One of the best ways to deescalate a situation is to be calm and soothing. Enter their reality with them. As I mentioned before, a person with dementia may be visiting different realities or going back in time in their minds. Meet them their. This also stands when visiting a loved one with dementia. When they seem to be off in a different time, instead of trying to correct them, meet them there. After all, the quality of the time spent with your loved one is about how you both feel when the visit is over. You have the power to make them happy by meeting them where they are at, rather than distressing them by telling them that they are wrong.
It is important that we make properly caring for those with Dementia a priority. Remember, it's them now, but it's us or our loved ones later. By learning the causes and signs of Dementia, we can create a society that is more compassionate to others, and create a better quality of life for those who have Dementia and their families.

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