In Colorado, United States, a 73-year-old woman with dementia is suing the city and its police department. The reason? She forgot to pay for her groceries, and the police made her compensate for that with a dislocated shoulder in her arrest for the offence. The police say they stopped and tried questioning her on the non-payment, but she shrugged her shoulders and turned away.
Her family says that one, she suffers from forgetfulness, and two, her dementia makes her understanding of the world different. Their claim is not a distant reality. Dementia is, indeed, much more than forgetfulness; we’ll discuss that. But first, let’s get one important thing out of the way.
Dementia vs Alzheimer’s
Many people believe that Alzheimer’s and dementia are separate illnesses, which is not the case. In itself, dementia is not a disease. It’s a syndrome; an umbrella term for a lot of brain-damaging diseases and conditions like Alzheimer’s.
While any of those brain-damaging conditions can cause memory loss, Alzheimer’s is a common one. And it’s not just about forgetfulness. Alzheimer’s also affects a person’s ability to:
- Create new memories, and
- Timely recall old ones
Causes of Dementia Other than Alzheimer’s
For many, though, what’s even more surprising is that Alzheimer’s is not the only cause of the sort of brain damage that a person with dementia is typically associated with. Other causes of it include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Brain injury
- Substance abuse
- Infections like oral herpes, Lyme disease, and pneumonia
So, when World Health Organization says over 50 million people have dementia, it counts people suffering from all these other conditions too.
Dementia Beyond Forgetfulness
It is now clear that forgetfulness in dementia also comes from factors other than Alzheimer’s. When such brain damage occurs though, it disturbs the life of the patient in more ways than just the memory loss.
While all its manifestations are interlinked, none less severe than the other, each comes with its own set of problems. Let’s take a look at these other, lesser-known, factors associated with dementia:
· Difficulty Expressing & Understanding
Like the 73-year-old victim of police brutality, people who have dementia often find it challenging to comprehend situations and express their reactions. Their linguistic ability takes a toll as words and expressions don’t come easily to them.
Additionally, they find it increasingly hard to comprehend difficult situations. Something that happens because their reasoning ability is often out of touch with reality, and the forgetfulness presents to them a lot of situations out of perspective and context.
It is, therefore, a caregiver’s job to look out for visual signals and expressions. If the patient seems uncomfortable, swoop in to help and rescue them.
· Difficulty with Change
Learning new things is difficult for a person with dementia as they find it hard to make a mental image of that change. The word change, however, means different for such patients. Finding themselves out of place is a common occurrence for them. While learning something new is difficult, a lot of times, relearning a piece of information that they knew for years proves difficult too.
Routine, therefore, suits them. As someone taking their care, you may find them repetitive about tasks and conversations. Just be patient.
· Loss of Focus
Hobbies don’t remain hobbies when you no longer remember their charm. Such is the case with people suffering from dementia. Apathy takes over focus, and it is difficult for them to concentrate for long. As a caregiver, keep their surroundings simple and do not overwhelm them with too much to handle.
· Slowing Motor Skills
In many cases, the brain damage discussed earlier affects the patient’s coordinating abilities. This leads to them slowing down in general. So, a person who walked or talked fast all their life may get slow at all that suddenly. The condition often worsens with age, as is the expected consequence of ageing. Still, it can come early for a person with dementia.
· Personality Alterations
Irritability, anxiety, fearfulness, and depression commonly accompany dementia. A lot of it has to do with this constant change its patients feel in the world. Coupled with the fact that they come across situations that they can’t put in perspective triggers all these changes. Therefore, don’t force your loved ones with dementia out of their comfort zones.
Caring for Dementia Patients During COVID-19
Studies suggest that taking care of people with dementia in COVID-19 has gotten trickier. Change was already a problem for such patients, and the pandemic has only worsened it.
The world has new SOPs, and conformity and isolation are encouraged. Someone who already has a hard time socializing and following the existing rules may find it all a bit too overwhelming. To counsel them through these stressful times, international dementia experts and Alzheimer’s Disease International call for a need for periodic psychological help alongside their dedicated care.
At Annie’s Place, we understand how dynamic dementia can be. Therefore, our caregivers treat each patient according to their own unique needs. And we do that at whatever place they call home and wherever they may need us. Without changing faces, without pushing them out of their comfort zones. Give us a call to discuss how we can help your loved one.