Caring for Alzheimer's and Dementia Patients

Dementia is a type of syndrome, or group of symptoms, that affects a person's mental functions and abilities, such as their ability to make decisions, remember, and think clearly. Some form of brain cell damage is typically the cause, however, there are also other factors that contribute to one's risk, such as genetics. It can impact individuals to such a degree that it hinders their ability to live independently. Over time, dementia can become so severe that one depends entirely on the help of their caregivers. It is most common with individuals who are over the age of 65, and one's risk of developing it increases with age.

According to estimates made by the Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS), as much as 14 percent of individuals living in the United States who are 71 years old or older have dementia. Unfortunately, the exact number of people who have some form of the syndrome is unknown, as it often goes undiagnosed. It is not, however, a consequence of age nor is it something that everyone develops. In terms of gender, 11 percent of men and 16 percent of women over the age of 71 have Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common type of dementia, or one of the other dementias.

Types of Dementia
There are several types of dementia. As the most common, Alzheimer's affects 10 percent of seniors per the Alzheimer's Association. Other common forms of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), and frontotemporal disorders. In some cases, a person can have a combination of types in what is called mixed dementia.

Vascular dementia often has a sudden onset, usually occurring after an event that hinders the flow of blood to the brain, such as a stroke. Risk factors include high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes. Common symptoms of vascular dementia often include confusion, difficulty thinking, memory problems, and agitation.

LBD occurs when Lewy bodies, which are protein deposits, develop abnormally in the brain. Symptoms, some of which are similar to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease, may include apathy, sleeping difficulties, cognitive problems, tremors, and other movement disorders, and visual hallucinations.

With frontotemporal disorders, the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are damaged by diseases of the brain that are called frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). These areas are responsible for one's behavior and personality. As a result, a person may exhibit changes in their behavior such as showing signs of apathy, displaying poor judgment, and inappropriate actions. Other symptoms may include speech impairment and problems with movement such as tremors and muscle weakness. This form of dementia often affects people starting in their 40's.

Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive and ultimately fatal disease that affects memory and cognitive function. Environmental factors, one's lifestyle, and genetics are all thought to contribute to one's risk of developing the disease; however, experts are not positive of what the actual cause is. Advancing age is the largest risk factor, however, over 200,000 people in the U.S. have early-onset Alzheimer's, which occurs before the age of 65. The disease affects the brain by damaging and killing cells. This results in brain shrinkage, as well as plaques of beta-amyloid protein that affect the communication between cells, and tangles of tau proteins in brain cells.

As Alzheimer's progresses it goes through several stages of worsening symptoms. These stages begin with the early-onset stage, followed by the middle stage in which symptoms begin becoming more apparent to family and friends, and the late stage in which constant help is required and the individual is increasingly susceptible to infections and illness, such as pneumonia. Some of the common early symptoms include difficulty organizing one's thoughts and remembering things. These symptoms worsen over time and people who have the disease may begin to repeat questions or conversations repeatedly. They may find themselves getting lost although they are in a place that is extremely familiar to them or they may start to forget the names of objects and people who they are close to. Difficulties with reasoning and concentration become an increasing problem as does one's ability to perform simple, everyday tasks or make decisions. When people have Alzheimer's they will also experience changes in their personality and may begin to experience mood swings, depression, distrust, and delusions.

Caring for a Person with Dementia

Regardless of whether a person has Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, it is crucial that they receive the appropriate type of care. If possible, the ideal situation is for one's loved one to receive care and assistance in the comfort of their own home versus another facility. When a person receives in-home care they'll need help from various outside sources. This includes medical services from a nurse or other licensed medical professional. In addition, non-medical assistance in the form of companionship, personal care, and homemaking services are critical to helping caregivers with tasks such as bathing, dressing, cooking, and cleaning. These services are crucial as they free up valuable time for caregivers who need to work or attend to personal matters. Adult day care programs are another form of care that makes it possible for caregivers to engage in important activities while ensuring their loved ones are safe and appropriately cared for. These programs for adults are very similar to a childcare- or daycare-type program, however, they are staffed by individuals who are trained to provide the necessary care for people who have dementia or Alzheimer's.

Residential care, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and memory care units, are for adults who require more supervision and assistance. When families choose residential care for their loved one, they are placing them in a facility that provides various levels of care depending on the individual's needs.

Assisted living communities allow individuals to maintain a level of independence, while providing onsite assistance and care as needed. When choosing an assisted living facility, one should confirm that it is a facility that is equipped to care for the special needs of individuals who have dementia. Nursing homes typically provide senior care for individuals who need 24-hour supervision and medical assistance. They are staffed by professional medical providers, are regulated by federal guidelines and are licensed by the state. Memory care units are designed specifically for people who have any of the various types of dementia including Alzheimer's. They are units located within assisted living and nursing home facilities.

Because Alzheimer's is a terminal condition, specific care is needed during the final stages. During this time, hospice care is an option for many. To receive the around the clock care that hospice provides one must have a limited life expectancy which is generally around six-months or less. One's family must consent to hospice care services and may need to present a living will.

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