Understanding Dementia

October 4, 2022
Understanding Dementia

Nearly 50 million people worldwide have dementia. Currently, more than five million of those living with dementia are in the United States; this number is projected to grow to as many as 14 million by 2050.

This condition not only impacts the quality of life, but also the finances for those who live with it, as well as their families and caregivers. In 2021, the cost of dementia care exceeded $244 billion in the U.S. While there are ways to ease symptoms, there unfortunately is still no cure.

Continue reading this in-depth resource on dementia from Sunscape™ Boca Raton to get a better understanding of the memory impairment, its impact on individuals and various care options.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a term that includes many different diseases that affect memory, cognitive abilities and decision making. Many progressively worsen over time and interfere with a person’s ability to perform the simplest everyday tasks.

Abnormal changes in the brain are lumped together in a group called “dementia.” These variations lead to a decline in a person’s cognitive function. The diseases may trigger changes to a person’s moods or personality and make it difficult to complete familiar tasks.

We often see dementia in adults over the age of 65, but many people live well into their 90s without ever developing it. Some cognitive changes are normal as a person ages. It’s not uncommon for people of any age to occasionally forget where they set something down or forget a person’s name that they just met. Even more significant memory loss alone doesn’t necessarily mean a person has dementia.

What Are the Symptoms of Dementia?

Different types of dementia create varying effects from one person to the next. Some of the early signs of dementia include:

Short-term memory changes: Difficulty with remembering things are among the most common signs of dementia and early on these problems might be subtle and virtually unnoticeable. A person may remember something from 30 years ago, but quickly forget something that happened earlier that day. Forgetting where they placed something or that they had an appointment on a certain day is often something those with short-term memory changes experience.

More easily confused: Confusion is another common early sign of dementia. A person’s face they’ve seen before, what day it is or the words they need to describe an object might be forgotten.

Repetitive behaviors: As a result of memory loss, a person with dementia may start repeatedly doing or saying things.

Trouble with regular daily tasks: A person in the early stages of dementia can experience trouble with completing difficult tasks that they typically performed with ease, such as balancing their checkbook or playing a game with several rules. They may also have difficulty learning something new.

Difficulty with reasoning or problem-solving: Individuals with dementia may struggle to identify dangerous situations and show poor judgment when it comes to planning, finances, driving, social interactions and more.

Visual and spatial awareness trouble: Dementia also impacts the ability to process 3D objects, judge distances, recognize faces and locate objects.

Problems with motor skill coordination: As dementia progresses, fine motor skills are impaired, making movements slower and individuals more accident-prone.

Depression and/or anxiety: It’s common for dementia patients to experience depression, including symptoms such as apathy, social withdrawal, fatigue and more.

Agitation: Feelings of anxiety and restlessness may cause individuals to fidget, pace, wander or express aggressive behaviors.

Paranoia: Individuals with dementia may also experience delusions, often of somebody trying to steal from them or harm them. These suspicions can lead to distress and agitation.

Difficulty finding the right words: Conversations often become more difficult for a person living with dementia. Their memory starts to deteriorate and they begin to forget words. They might stumble trying to describe their feelings or an object, or they may describe an object or emotion because they can’t remember the actual word.

Shifting moods: It’s not uncommon for people with dementia to experience major shifts in their mood or personality. Depression is a common early sign.

Other dementia symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with reasoning or problem-solving
  • Visual and spatial awareness trouble
  • Problems with motor skill coordination
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia

Types of Dementia

There are many types of dementia. Some common forms are listed below.

Alzheimer’s Disease

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s and accounts for 60% to 80% of the cases. It’s also one of the top ten causes of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gets worse as time goes on. It develops as a result of amyloid plaques accumulating on the brain, but scientists have been unable to pinpoint an exact cause to date. These plaques interfere with neuron communication, leading to cell and brain tissue death.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease 

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia refers to cognitive deterioration due to conditions that block or obstruct blood flow to the brain causing it to be deprived of essential oxygen and nutrients. It’s the second most common form of dementia in the U.S.

Any condition that damages blood vessels can lead to changes in the brain. Like other forms of dementia, age is among the top risk factors. Heart disease, stroke and other conditions may also increase a person’s risk. The most common symptoms include delayed thoughts and difficulty with problem-solving skills.

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia is also called dementia with Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are protein deposits that develop in nerve cells in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and thinking. Like Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia leads to an increasing decline in mental capabilities. Hallucinations and acting out dreams while sleeping are some of the symptoms those living with Lewy body dementia experience and may also develop tremors or become uncoordinated.

Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is a rare type of genetic disease. It causes the gradual erosion of brain nerve cells, affecting a person’s cognitive abilities and motor skills. Symptoms often begin appearing in a person as early as their 30s or 40s but can present at various ages. For some, it can develop in their 20s, which is referred to as juvenile Huntington’s. The disease causes physical, cognitive and psychological changes.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is also a progressive disease. It attacks the nervous system, and as a result, causes uncontrollable movements. The symptoms begin subtly and most people may not even notice them at first. Tremors are common in someone living with Parkinson’s disease but they may also experience stiffness or slowed movements. Symptoms vary from one person to the next, but they might include:

  • Tremors
  • Loss of automatic movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Handwriting changes
  • Presence of Lewy bodies in the brain

Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia is a combination of two forms of dementia. The most common combination is vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies suggest that mixed dementia may be even more common than Alzheimer’s disease.

Stages/Progression of Dementia

The Difference Between Mild, Moderate & Severe Stages of Dementia

Your loved one should undergo a professional evaluation to determine their current stage of dementia.

Typically, early-stage dementia is characterized by short-term memory loss (such as somebody’s name or where they left their keys).

In mid-stage dementia, individuals experience interference with daily activities and show symptoms such as impaired judgment, disorientation and wandering.

Finally, late-stage dementia patients have severe memory loss and require full-time guidance with activities. They may also express aggressive behaviors and symptoms such as paranoia.

How Quickly Does Dementia Progress?

It’s difficult to predict how quickly an individual’s dementia will progress. It may take between 2-10 years for symptoms to progress to late-stage. Your family can try to slow down mental decline by providing memory-enhancing stimulation and social interaction during the day, such as through a memory care community. However, once an individual reaches late-stage dementia, symptoms typically progress rather quickly within 6-12 months.

How Can I Slow Down My Loved One’s Mental Decline?

Dementia is a complex condition, but you can boost your family member’s brain health by providing enriching experiences and following healthy habits. Daily exercisenutritious meals and sleep routines are just the start. Your loved one can also benefit from regular social events, memory-enhancing activities and low-stress environments – all of which can be found at a memory care community.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia causes vary depending upon the form a person has developed. It commonly occurs as a result of damage to brain cells. This causes these cells to not function properly and affects thinking and feelings.

The brain has multiple regions, each of which have differing roles and are linked to different types of brain cell damage in specific areas of the brain. For instance, Alzheimer’s displays increased levels of amyloid proteins that damage cells, interfering with their ability to communicate.

Eventually, the cells die, as does brain tissue. With vascular dementia, the damage to a person’s brain cells occurs because of reduced or blocked blood flow, which deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly.

Risk Factors

While dementia can affect anyone, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing it. Some of the most common risk factors include:

Age: The risk of developing dementia is greatest in people 65 years of age or older, but can still affect those under 65. For example, Huntington’s disease frequently develops in people in their 30s to 40s.

Family history: A person with a parent or sibling who has dementia has an elevated risk of developing it.

Traumatic brain injury: A person who experiences a traumatic brain injury, especially if it was severe, has a bigger risk of developing dementia.

Poor overall health: A person who has risk factors for heart disease (such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol), smokes, drinks excessively or has unmanaged Type 2 diabetes is at increased risk.

Lack of social engagement: Several studies show that it’s important to maintain an active, healthy social life. Those who do live actively and engaged have a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia than those who become withdrawn or depressed.

Diagnosis & Treatment

A healthcare professional is required to make a dementia diagnosis. A physician will need to explore any underlying conditions that may be causing cognitive impairment, such as poor thyroid function or vitamin deficiencies.

To diagnose dementia, a doctor typically starts with a general evaluation to include:

  • Medical history review (self and family)
  • Physical exam
  • Neurological tests
  • Lab work
  • Brain scans

A combination of evaluations can assist in identifying any underlying causes. While a family physician can sometimes diagnose dementia, an appointment with a specialist may also be necessary to determine the exact type.

To date, there is no cure for dementia but researchers are working diligently to find one. Until then, treatments are being used to slow the progression of the symptoms, preserve cognition longer and make symptoms more manageable.

The precise treatment a physician prescribes depends upon the type of dementia they are experiencing. Generally, these treatments might include:

  • Medications to increase chemical messaging in the brain
  • Medications to treat symptoms such as depression, anxiety or sleep issues
  • Occupational therapy
  • Exercising
  • Participating in engaging programs
  • Establishing a day and bedtime routine

While these treatments won’t eliminate dementia, they can make them easier to manage.

Medications for Dementia

Medications for dementia cannot cure memory loss, but several can slow down progression or reduce symptoms. Remember that medications will depend on the patient’s current stage of dementia, as well as non-medication treatments.

Drugs such as Aducanumab are focused on reducing mental decline by targeting beta-amyloid. In addition, Cholinesterase inhibitors (such as Donepezil, Rivastigmine and Galantamine) and Glutamate regulators (such as Memantine) treat symptoms associated with memory by facilitating nerve cell communication.

Dementia patients may also be prescribed medication to ease insomnia and anxiety, such as suvorexant or antidepressants.

What Type of Care Does Someone With Dementia Need?

Dementia care is a highly personalized, comprehensive care that encompasses all aspects of individual well-being.

Personalized Memory Care

Individuals with dementia require care that’s tailored to their interests and abilities. The best dementia care will strengthen one-on-one interaction, social connections and memory-enhancing activities that stimulate the senses.

24/7 Safety Monitoring

Dementia patients also require round-the-clock monitoring to ensure that they stay safe. Most dementia care will include 24/7 monitoring, emergency response systems and regular wellness checks.

Health Coordination

Individuals may require greater health coordination for their other medical needs. Dementia care coordinates extra health services, such as assistance with daily living, rehabilitation services, medication management, etc.

Living Amenities & Services

At a memory care community, residents can thrive with amenities such fitness centers, entertainment programs, social events and more. Dementia care also requires living services, such as meals, housekeeping, laundry, etc.

Download our Memory Care Guide to learn more >

Senior Living Options for Those With Dementia

There are several possibilities for those living with memory impairment. Depending on your loved one’s needs, your family may gravitate towards certain senior living options.

In-Home Support

One common opportunity is for family members to provide in-home support, which allows the person living with dementia to stay in familiar surroundings with familiar faces. Families may hire an in-home aide to help with daily living activities such as cooking and cleaning or to provide medical assistance.

Adult Day Care

While adult day care is only available during the weekdays, it’s a great option for individuals with dementia who live at home. This program offers recreational and social stimulation for older adults during daytime hours, which can complement in-home support when caregivers work or take care of other responsibilities.

Assisted Living or Memory Care Community

Another option is to move to an assisted living and memory care community such as Sunscape™ Boca Raton. Such communities provide individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia a safe, supportive environment to refocus their abilities and build a full life, helping them to improve their wellness and build strong relationships.

Which Type of Dementia Care Is Right for My Family Member?

Every family should determine what’s best for their loved one. While in-home care is right for some, providing 24/7 care can be overwhelming for many caregivers. In addition, in-home care doesn’t provide the same level of safety, socialization and stimulation that an assisted living or memory care community would. To reduce mental decline, choosing a memory care community may be the best choice to provide comprehensive, whole-personal wellness.

Memory Care at Sunscape™ Boca Raton

Sunscape™ Boca Raton provides programs for all community residents, including those with dementia. Each program incorporates our signature  Valeo™ wellness philosophy, which emphasizes the use of holistic care to improve overall wellness. Every program is customized to each individual resident, helping them to improve their cognition and make new, wonderful memories.

For more information about our memory care program in Boca Raton, fill out a form or request a free copy of our memory care resource guide. We are here to help.

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