The earliest signs of dementia are usually memory problems, confusion, and changes in the way a person behaves and communicates. Dementia is caused by various conditions that result in the damage of brain cells. Their are several types of dementia. The most common being Alzheimer's which remains to be the 5th leading cause of death in the United States.
In the years that we have been assisting seniors with their transitions through the second half of their lives, the most memorable are those living with dementia. Their families typically begin noticing changes two or three years prior to their diagnosis. Cognitive symptoms of dementia can include poor problem solving, difficulty learning new skills, and impaired decision making. Behavior changes can include fear, paranoia or insecurity, anger, and often depression like symptoms. It is incorrect to assume that memory loss is a natural part of growing older.
People with dementia don't become a different person overnight. While the disease is developing encourage cognitive and physical engagement. Research shows that even after a dementia diagnosis of the individual keeps working their mind and body the disease seems to progress less quickly.
The biggest obstacle I see caregivers struggle with is knowing when it's time to transition their loved one to a memory care community. It's an emotional decision. Of course you want to be able to continue caring for the person and of course you worry about whether your loved one will be upset about moving. However, as a caregiver, you are only person who can not do everything all the time. At some point you need to accept help.
The hard part about trying to continue to care for a loved one living with dementia in your home is that as the disease progresses there will be concerns about safety. Safety from accessing chemicals, safety from wandering out the door in the winter, safety from hurting themselves by trying to take things apart, safety of the environment when trying to bathe or use the restroom, or if there are steps in the home. This doesn't include the need to keep the individual busy during the day so that they will sleep at night so the caregiver isn't trying to stay awake 24 hours per day.
As loved ones it is difficult for us to get past the feeling of letting our loved one down by not being able to continue care. The reality is the transition is often more difficult on us than the individual living with dementia. We often witness first hand how the dementia patient, when placed in the right environment, thrives having access to consistent activity and engagement with others. In addition, after the initial acclimation, the caregiver realizes the benefits of going back to being the spouse, child, or friend as opposed to the caregiver.
Caregiving is stressful and can consume us. Be open-minded about your options. There are assisted living options specifically designed for seniors living with dementia that offer apartments in a secure environment and encourage activity, independence, and socialization. Many even offer the option for the spouse to reside with the resident. There are also home health agencies available to come in to the home and offer companionship and help with activities of daily living.
The progression is unpredictable. Rather than concentrating on the problems the illness brings you, stay positive and informed of the resources in our community that can help you and your loved one have a quality of life.
Contact one of our communities closet to you if your organization would like to hold an educational presentation specific to elder care or if you or someone you know could benefit from education in this area.