Some Insight into a Complex Condition
As a psychotherapist with forty years of experience, I worked with many older individuals whose thinking was clear when we started therapy. The leading complaint that brought them into therapy was depression. Soon after starting, perhaps six months to a year, they gradually descended into dementia. Families were invited to my office and referred to psychiatrists and medical doctors. They were then helped to choose between a nursing home or in-home healthcare for their loved ones.
Dementia is a term that describes symptoms that affect cognitive functions. Among these functions are memory, language, problem-solving, and the ability to perform everyday activities. It is a complex, progressive condition that primarily affects older adults but can also affect younger people. Approximately 50 million people worldwide have dementia.
Dementia can be a heartbreaking experience for families. Watching a loved one struggle with memory loss and confusion is emotionally draining for everyone involved. Family members must come together and support their loved ones with dementia and one another. While it’s not an easy journey, with love, patience, and understanding, families can navigate the challenges of dementia and make the most of every moment together.
The concept of dementia encompasses several distinct conditions. The most common type is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for up to 80% of cases. Other types include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia. These involve a decline in cognitive functioning, making it difficult to live independently.
Dementia is often associated with memory loss but encompasses far more than forgetfulness. Agitation, depression, apathy, and psychosis are common behavioral changes. Attention, language, executive functions (planning and organizing), and visuospatial skills are also affected.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Evidence suggests excessive alcohol consumption can negatively affect cognitive function and brain health. Studies have shown that heavy drinking can lead to a higher risk of developing dementia later in life. However, it’s important to note that not all cases of dementia are caused by alcoholism, and other factors such as genetics and age can also play a role. It’s always wise to practice moderation with alcohol consumption and to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.
Additional risk factors for dementia are age, genetics, and lifestyle factors. Such factors are smoking, physical inactivity, and an unhealthy diet. Cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity in midlife may also increase the risk.
Importance of Early Diagnosis
Early diagnosis of dementia is crucial, as it can allow for better planning and care. Early diagnosis can also enable some individuals to participate in making plans. Of course, that depends on their cognitive abilities.
Living with dementia presents substantial challenges both for individuals and their caregivers. Medical treatments can ease some symptoms. But comprehensive care addresses the individual’s physical, psychological, social, and environmental needs. Over time, people with dementia will require increasing help with daily tasks. Eventually, they may need round-the-clock care.
Some Examples of dementia complications:
Restlessness in dementia can present as agitation, nervousness, or a continuous need for movement. It is a common symptom that can occur in all stages of the disease but often worsens as it progresses. Here are a few things that can contribute to restlessness in people with dementia:
- Physical Discomfort: This could be due to hunger, thirst, constipation, a full bladder, fatigue, infections, or even pain. However, people with dementia might not be capable of explaining their discomfort.
- Factors in the Environment: A new environment, too much noise or activity, or poor lighting can cause restlessness. A comfortable, quiet, and familiar environment is usually beneficial.
- Psychological Factors: Depression, anxiety, and boredom can cause restlessness. Changes in routine can also lead to increased agitation.
- Medications: Certain medications can cause restlessness as a side effect. Managing restlessness in dementia requires a holistic approach. Some general strategies include:
- Physical Activity: Regular physical activity like walking can help reduce restlessness.
- Engagement: Keeping the person engaged with enjoyable activities can help reduce restlessness and agitation.
- Comfort: Make sure the person is comfortable – this includes checking if they need to use the bathroom, are hungry or thirsty, or if their clothing is comfortable.
- Environment: Maintain a calm and quiet environment as much as possible. Familiar objects and photos may also help soothe the person.
- Routine: A daily routine can provide structure and predictability, reducing restlessness.
Each person with dementia is unique; what works for one may not work for another. It’s crucial to have a healthcare provider manage these symptoms, as they can provide personalized advice and guidance.
Living with dementia can be a challenging experience, not just for the patient but also for their family members and caregivers. It’s important to remember that people with dementia have feelings, emotions, and personalities. And they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Patience, understanding, and empathy are key when interacting with someone with dementia. Their ability to communicate and process information may be impaired.