According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of people affected by dementia in the USA is on the rise, with over 6 million suffering with some form of the disease. Dementia is a deterioration in mental capability, with 60-80 percent of these cases being Alzheimer’s and the second most common being vascular dementia, which can appear after a stroke. Damage to the brain cells, which often happens with age, disrupts the cells interacting with each other and causes many debilitating symptoms. What happens when a parent starts to show these signs and what can their child actively do to help them?
SIGNS OF DEMENTIA
- Forgetfulness and memory issues can happen to all of us and may be due to many reasons. Vitamin deficiency, depression, stress or thyroid. When a parent forgets recently learned information, important dates or repeats a question a few times, this maybe a sign of dementia.
- Lack of concentration. An inability to complete a simple task due to a wandering mind.
- Logic and decision. An incoherency in logical thought pattern and the lack of decisive decisions.
- Confusion with time and place. Trouble understanding the present and the future.
- Fear and suspicion.
- Repeating and sometimes forgetting words to use.
- Changes in mood and personality. People with Alzheimer’s can become easily confused, anxious, depressed and even aggressive.
- Not wanting to socialize. The early onset of dementia can be recognized by the sufferer, causing them to retract from social interaction or hobbies.
Once recognizing the signs, make sure the parent sees a doctor as soon as possible, in order to try and minimize the brain cell damage and provide drugs or therapy to help with memory loss and symptoms of confusion. The Alzheimer’s Association is in the process of researching and diagnozing symptoms before they fully develop, in the hope they may stop the disease before brain damage and mental capacity declines.
WHERE SHOULD THE PARENT LIVE?
Dementia can be challenging, not only for the sufferer, but their family too. If possible, relatives should discuss living options with the patient, before the disease progresses to the stage where they don’t understand what is being said to them. Many dementia suffers stay at home for the first years of the disease, but it is essential that the following care is considered, depending on finances and development stage:
- Home care. There are many options for home care from domestic work, nursing healthcare, and agencies that specialize in dementia care.
- Respite care. If relatives are taking care of the family relation, it is important that they have periodic relief from being the sole care giver. Most care agencies offer a respite service.
- Assisted Living. Ideal for patients who require help preparing meals, bathing and dressing but do not need any special medical needs. They live in their own apartment or share a residence, which gives a feeling of independence.
- Dementia special care. Special dementia care units are often found in residential care homes. With staff who are especially trained for the requirements of a dementia or Alzheimer’s sufferer.
HOME SAFETY TIPS
Staying at home maybe a feasible option for the first stage of dementia, but it is crucial to have certain safety measures in place, so the family member is protected and the caregiver has piece of mind.
Particular attention should be spent of securing certain areas of the home:
- Consider taking knobs off the stove. Appliances should have an automatic switch off feature and be away from any water sources. Remove sharp knives.
- Remove any hazardous chemicals and keep tools locked away.
- Make sure chemicals are locked away. Have safety bars installed so that the parent can lift themselves with ease.
- Fire alarm/carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure all safety devices are inspected on a regular basis.
- Keep the home well lit. Use natural light were possible avoiding florescent light which may aggravate dementia sufferers.
HELPING A PARENT WITH DEMENTIA
When a parent is in the early stages of dementia they are likely to feel scared, stressed and worried. Creating a regular routine will help them feel more secure in their home. Encourage them and try not to be critical or frustrated with their behavior. This is difficult at times, when the caregiver maybe tired and anxious too. Giving small responsibilities in the early stages, for example polishing the furniture or laying the dinner table, will create self worth. There are a number of devices to help a parent, especially in the onset of dementia.
- Memory aids. Pictures used around the house to identify where things are kept. An example of this would be a picture of mugs on a kitchen cupboard.
- Hobbies. Going for small regular walks, food shopping, having family and friends visit are a few suggestions to keep active and engaged.
- Diet and exercise is very important for dementia sufferers. The longer they have mobility and nutrition the better quality of life they will have. A recent study from the AHA Stroke Journals states chances of suffering a stroke or getting dementia increases three times if an individual drinks soda everyday.
- Schedule regular medical visits.
- Join a support group. It is important for the caregiver to have support too. Depression in caregivers who look after dementia sufferers is very common so this is imperative.
- Plan for the future. Know your options of living arrangements for when the disease progresses.
- Simplify directions by sticking to one instruction, allowing time for response.
- Avoid confrontation or disagreement. Dementia affects rationality and logic.
- Paper work. Sorting parent’s financial affairs is important. If possible, arrange power of attorney before the dementia has progressed. Each state is different in terms of laws. Contact the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys for further information.
AHA Stroke Journal