What is dementia?
Symptoms of Dementia are related to memory loss and overall cognitive impairment. Most types of dementias gradually worsen overtime and are most often irreversible.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and well-studied cause of dementia. It affects up to 70% of those diagnosed with dementia.
People with dementia are often in need of assistance in taking care of themselves. They may have a difficult time with communication and everyday activities such as grooming, preparing meals, and driving.
What are some signs or symptoms of dementia?
The symptoms of dementia vary depending on the diagnosis. In most cases, people with dementia experience a gradual loss of memory and other cognitive functions.
As the disease worsens, the patient may experience the following:
- Difficulty on the job
- Getting lost in familiar areas
- Problems handling personal affairs (e.g.,finances, housekeeping, grooming)
- Personality changes
- Depression (as the person recognizes his or her deficits)
- Significant memory loss
- Difficulty following simple directions
- Decreasing communication skills
- Difficulty swallowing
- By the final stages, inability to feed himself or herself, walk independently, or speak intelligibly.
How is dementia diagnosed?
It is necessary to rule out additional causes of cognitive impairment. For example, interactions with drugs and strokes can be causes of dementia. If no other causes are found, the patient may be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, however an ultimate diagnosis cannot be made without brain examination at autopsy.
A team of professionals may help determine whether a person has dementia. That team may include:
- Speech-language pathologists
- Occupational therapists
- Social workers
- Family and caregivers
The team will collect information of the patients difficulties in daily activities as well as ask questions regarding the patient’s memory among other issues. Patients can also be given a variety of tests in order to assess their cognitive functioning. The results of the overall evaluation will determine the diagnosis and treatment plan.
What treatments are available for people with dementia?
There are medications may slow progression of symptoms; however, they do not reverse the disease. More often, the patient may learn to recall information or perform daily activities through behavioral interventions.
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help a dementia patient with strategies that can preserve communication and cognitive functioning for as long as possible. Examples of strategies include
- using written cues for completing tasks or to assist memory recall
- developing “memory books” to help recall personal information
- training family members or caregivers in how to communicate better with the person with dementia (see below for examples)
If the individual has difficulty swallowing, the SLP can work with them to ensure the patient can swallow safely. This may involve altering the patient’s diet or teaching alternate strategies to avoid risk of choking or illness. The ultimate goal of any intervention is to preserve the person’s quality of life for as long as possible.
What can I do to communicate better with a person with dementia?
Caregivers can do a number of things to help a dementia patient be able to better function in their everyday life. Useful techniques include:
- repeating key information when talking with the person to help maintain focus
- giving the person choices rather than asking open-ended questions (e.g., “Would you like coffee or tea?” instead of “What do you want to drink?”)
- keeping information and questions short and simple
- using written cues for activities (such as how to get dressed or how to prepare a simple meal) and to remind the person about appointments or to take medications
- attending support groups to learn about how others cope with the stresses of caring for someone with dementia
- using adult day cares or respite cares to prevent caregiver burnout
What other organizations have information about dementia?
Please be aware that the following list is not comprehensive, and does not necessarily imply endorsement from Premier Therapy Associates as to its content.
- Alzheimer’s Association
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
- Dementia Research Center
- Medline Plus
- National Institute on Aging