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If you know someone with dementia

When many people think of dementia associated with aging, the first thing that comes to mind is often a disease characterized by memory loss. Dementia by definition is associated with memory loss but also, and sometimes more importantly, by personality changes and impaired reasoning that can lead to a significant impact on functioning.


Dementia is considered a progressive illness and so if you know someone with dementia, you should expect that it will get worse over time. People often struggle with decisions of how to best care for people with dementia and this often includes how to manage those personality changes and changes in reasoning that can lead to an increase in anxiety, mood disturbances and behavioral changes. Any caregiver of someone with dementia soon recognizes things can change from day to day and even hour to hour. It takes an abundance of flexibility, patience and understanding to navigate the many nuances of

this illness. However, there are some things every caregiver should consider in their approach to interacting with someone with dementia.


A person's ability to effectively communicate their needs and wants is often affected by dementia. Sometimes people forget how to form sentences to communicate what they are thinking. Sometimes people forget what word to use for a certain thought, feeling or even an object. This can lead to extreme frustration, which also can be difficult to express. It's important for loved ones and those caring for someone with dementia to recognize these limitations and to try and find an approach best suited to meeting the person's individual needs. You might ask then how can you help when you're not sure what someone needs? The first step would be recognize some of the changes that are commonly seen in

dementia that aren't necessarily directly associated with memory. For example, some commonly seen changes associated with dementia include:

- restlessness

- sleep disturbances

- anxiety

- mood changes

- delusions or irrational beliefs

- hallucinations or hearing and/or seeing things that other people don't see


It's just as important to try and tease out what could be possible reasons for these changes. Some examples of this would include:

- new medical issues

- pain

- realization that they have dementia

- new medications

- fear

- new surroundings

- difficulty communicating with others


Once all of these things are explored, the question remains- how can you help when you're not sure what someone needs? There are some things you can do regularly that will help in the long run:

- Check for hunger, thirst, wet or soiled clothing

- Check for pain or physical discomfort Suggest

- REST!

- Physically stimulating activity and exercise

- Stimulating mental activities

- Offer simple choices

- Get to know likes and dislikes and tailor your approach

- Avoid arguing or confrontational debate


By the same token, there are some approaches that can negatively impact someone dealing with dementia. Some examples of these would be:

- Loud, angry voices Demanding

- immediate action Rushing

- Ignoring requests

- Display of negative emotions

- Restraining, cornering or crowding


The effects of dementia can take a huge toll on the lives of those dealing with this progressive disease, in addition to the lives of their loved ones and caregivers. Memory loss alone can lead to significant frustration and distress. In addition, the personality changes, loss of ability to communicate and impaired reasoning seen with this illness can be just as disruptive and potentially devastating. Fortunately, educating ourselves about the illness and then tailoring our interactions and care based on this knowledge can go a long way towards easing the burden to individuals with dementia, their loved ones and caregivers.


Dr. Gibbs

Managing Partner

Senior Health and Education Partners, PLLC

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