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Dementia: Not a normal part of aging but a growing reality of aging…by Shamon Higginbotham, OTR, CDP, CMDCP

Long term care specializes in the care of the elderly, many with complex co-morbidities including physical age-related expected changes making individualized care-giving necessary. Emotional and cognitive components only make aging more complicated and demands that individualized care-giving be more specialized. So, what do we do when someone is diagnosed with and living with dementia?

First, let us explore what Dementia is? Dementia is an umbrella term for conditions involving cognitive impairment. Common symptoms include memory loss, issues with communication, language, and thinking, and personality changes. Although some short-term memory loss is expected with aging, dementia causes serious impairments and is NOT a normal part of aging.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and currently accounts for 60% of all dementia cases, but it is only one of the many types of dementias. Other, more common forms of dementia are Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Dementia, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease also known as Mad Cow Disease. Even though they are all considered dementias, the signs and symptoms differ, sometimes widely.

Most of us know someone that has dementia. This is because dementia is one of the fastest growing chronic illnesses.

Some quick facts about Dementia and Alzheimer’s that you may not realize:

  • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia
  • 33% of people 85 and older have Alzheimer’s
  • More than 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s
  • Dementia currently affects more then 47.5 million people worldwide
  • Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer COMBINED
  • Between 2000 and 2019, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased by 145%
  • Care costs could reach $1 Trillion by 2030

Studies have shown that more than 80% of Americans do not know about MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment), which can be one of the first signs of early-stage Alzheimer’s. It is important for caregivers to notice the signs of MCI, so that diagnoses and treatment can be initiated as early as possible. Even though there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, or other dementia related diagnoses, there are treatments (pharmacological and non-pharmacological) that can change or slow down the disease progression.

There are currently no approaches that have been proven to prevent dementia, but current research does suggest that the following could be integral to dementia prevention-

  • Reducing smoking, alcohol abuse, and recreational drug abuse
  • Participating in mentally stimulating, memory-training activities
  • Staying physically and socially active
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a regular exercise routine
  • Getting adequate, quality sleep
  • Adequately managing stress
  • Managing health problems such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure

In long term care, it is likely too late to begin these desirable preventative strategies. The reality of dementia being a dominant and complicating factor of aging means long term care facilities must commit to a system of consistent and evolving care-giving education.

With that in mind, it is imperative that our care-givers are educated on the various types of dementia focusing on how each type differs in presentation and how each specifically dictates our way of care-giving. An important yet simple strategy of educating our care-givers is to physically put them in “their shoes”. Through virtual dementia lab demonstrations of what its like to have dementia and trainings focused on dementia specific caregiving techniques, staff can create safe, calm environments, reduce exacerbations of dementia related behaviors while ensuring the best quality of life for our residents living with dementia.

Care-giving is not the only important factor when dementia is involved. Many times, staff are faced with helping family members grieve the “loss” of their loved-one with dementia. Staff frequently become the primary source of education for what to expect with the disease process. Most importantly, these trained and specialized staff members are more equipped to be compassionate care givers to those with dementia and for those families dealing with loved ones with dementia.

 

Resources:

Alzheimer’s Association | Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Help

National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)

 

Shamon Higginbotham is the Corporate Director of Rehabilitation and Clinical Education for Nexion Health Managment, Inc.

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