Dementia is not a disease but a general term to describe loss of mental function and decline in memory. It’s not a term we ever want to hear on the aging journey, but in reality, it affects more than 4 million Americans. Knowing the signs, symptoms and early treatment opportunities are key to helping loved ones and family members receive the care that’s best and cope with the sometimes difficult symptoms.

WHAT IS DEMENTIA?

Dementia is a progressive illness, which means the symptoms gradually worsen over time. They can include and affect language, judgment, memory, spatial and visual abilities and changes in emotional and behavioral control. They affect individuals differently, so the quickness of progression varies. Alzheimer’s disease affects around 80% of individuals suffering from dementia. It is the most common cause of memory loss, and is not a normal part of aging.

UNDERSTANDING

A person with dementia and Alzheimer’s is unable to retrieve past memories at will. The person only has the present moment. In the here and now, a person with Alzheimer’s is highly sensitive to what’s going on around them and any shift in the environment can be difficult. If there is no activity, they may become bored and simply wander away. In some situations, sufferers may not remember that where they are is home, so when visitors say goodbye, they may think they are a visitor too and try to go along.

Reality orientation, or helping individuals make sense of the world by using their senses, is one of the many ways professionals help those with Alzheimer’s. For instance, if an individual thinks they need to start their day at 3 a.m., reality orientation would take the individual to a window, show them that it’s dark outside and explain it’s not time to wake up.

Health care professionals can help support families with understanding what their loved ones are experiencing and suggest ways to help cope with symptoms.

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENTS

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease is most often done through a physical exam, blood tests, a CT Scan, MRI Scan as well as psychiatric and psychological evaluations. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, there are some medications and non-drug exercises that help with symptoms. Your doctor and health care professional can determine what form of treatment is right for you.

For more dementia-related answers, visit our Memory Care Answers page on our website.