Dementia: How You Can Help a Loved One Who Is Afflicted by This Cognitive Disorder
For many families, that’s a hard word to accept about the condition of an aged loved one. They can already perceive the problems and challenges that lie ahead, the bitter fruit of someone slowly losing memory and changing personality.
Then, there’s the social stigma. It’s a global problem that persons with dementia and their families suffer, as if their medical and other serious concerns are not enough.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “Social stigma of people with dementia is a worldwide problem. The severity of this phenomenon depends on several factors, including gender, age, level of education, religiosity, cultural differences, and the severity of cognitive disorders. Stigmatization can have numerous negative consequences. It leads to rejection, discrimination, and exclusion of stigmatized people from participation in various areas of social life. It also affects close relatives.”
But life should go on regardless of other people’s reactions and attitude. We don’t give up on our pursuit of happiness just because a loved one is afflicted with dementia. Yes, this medical condition is not part of normal aging, but you make do when this happens to an elderly member of your family, especially your parent.
You can derive inspiration from this nugget of wisdom from Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book, How To Stop Worrying and Start Living: “Bend like a willow, don’t resist like an oak.”
When a parent shows signs of dementia
Memory loss is a primary symptom of dementia. But just because an elderly person is experiencing memory loss, the condition must not automatically be considered a case of dementia.
As defined by the Mayo Clinic, “Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life. It isn’t a specific disease, but several diseases can cause dementia.”
So, what are the signs to watch out for?
According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of dementia vary based on its causes. But these are among the common signs and symptoms:
- Loss of memory, a symptom usually observed by another person
- Disorientation and confusion
- Difficulty in communication or finding words
- Difficulty with spatial and visual abilities, such as losing direction while driving
- Difficulty in dealing with complex tasks
- Difficulty in organizing and planning
- Difficulty in problem-solving or reasoning
- Difficulty with motor and coordination functions
- Changes in personality
- Inappropriate behavior
When you have observed memory loss, along with other symptoms, in your parent, talk about visiting a doctor for a proper diagnosis with your parent and other family members so everyone is prepared. You must also remember that dementia symptoms may be brought about by certain medical conditions that are treatable, according to Mayo Clinic, so it’s vital to determine the cause.
There’s also no single test that can diagnose dementia. A number of tests will have to be conducted by the doctor, such as:
- Cognitive and neuropsychological tests
- Laboratory tests
- Brain scans
- Neurological evaluation
- Psychiatric evaluation
It will be a great help for the doctor if you’ve been keeping a record of your parent’s symptoms. The information can facilitate the diagnosis since the doctor must know the pattern of the loss of functions and skills, along with what your parent is still able to do.
After the diagnosis, you will be advised about the proper care and medication that your parent must receive. No, there’s no cure for most types of this medical condition, but dementia symptoms can be managed.
Also, despite the fact that dementia is an unpredictable and progressive disorder, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and being socially active can help your parent’s well-being.
How do you prevent a dementia patient from falling?
Persons with dementia are at a greater risk of falls due to problems with mobility, balance, and muscle strength. Moreover, due to troubles with memory and visual processing, they lose familiarity with places at home and their reactions slow down.
This is why it’s important to make a dementia patient’s home safer and easier to navigate. Here’s how you can do it to prevent this kind of accident, according to NHS Inform:
STAIRS AND HALLWAYS
But it is especially important to remember that, among the best ways you can help a dementia patient to lower the risk of falling is to encourage regular exercise to strengthen muscles. The right kinds of food and social activities are also beneficial for their physical, mental, and emotional health.
What music is good for dementia?
“The use of music therapy has been proposed to assist in the management of agitated behaviors. Such therapies consist of either playing music to calm patients with dementia and to improve cooperation with caregivers, or utilization of a trained therapist to lead patient participation in playing or listening to music. Advantages of such therapies include low cost and the presumed absence of adverse effects. Some studies including music and physical therapy have shown modest cognitive benefits of music therapy in dementia. Live music may be more beneficial than prerecorded music,” according to the National Library of Medicine.
However, it should be noted that the researchers were talking about music therapy and not just “listening to music.”
Music therapy, as defined by Cleveland Clinic, is the clinical use of music to attain individualized goals such as stress reduction, mood enhancement, and self-expression. Therapy experiences may include listening, composing music, singing, or playing instruments. Musical talents or skills are not a requirement for participation.
Since the objective is to attain individualized goals, music used in this kind of therapy is based on the patient’s preference. Some patients may like classical music like Bach, while others respond more to their favorite country music or more catchy pop melodies.
However, patient-preferred music in clinical units can be logistically challenging because some members of a group under the therapy may not respond well to what’s being played. It may even lead to aggressive behavior due to the patient’s dissatisfaction.
And so, individual music therapy with the patient’s selected music is most recommended due to its higher degree of effectiveness, particularly in controlling agitation or aggression. On the other hand, reminiscence-based music helps in treating depression.
What to do when an abusive parent gets dementia?
“Researchers have found evidence that among many elements of family histories, childhood maltreatment can negatively affect caregivers’ well-being. An estimated 9.4–26% of filial caregivers experienced abuse and/or neglect by the parent for whom they were providing care. Research has demonstrated that such caregivers report worse mental health than their non-abused counterparts. The question remains, however, would these adult children continue to interact or relate to their parents who used to be abusive and neglectful? The answers to this question likely vary depending on specific characteristics and circumstances of childhood and current family relationships,” according to the report, Caregiving for Parents who Harmed You: A Conceptual Review, as published on PubMed Central.
However, many family conflicts remain unresolved even in the passing of many years. Traumatized children often grow up scarred, and at times still scared of their abusive parents. That’s why it’s more challenging for these victims of domestic abuse to be depended on to care for their aging parents, even if they are already afflicted with dementia. In fact, there’s a chance that their abusive nature will get worse because of this unpredictable cognitive and psychological disorder.
These recommendations from Carol Bradley Cursack, an eldercare consultant, may prove practical:
- Hire help, like a geriatric care manager.
- Get a legal guardian to overlook your parent’s health care, finances, and living situation.
- Accept your parents’ imperfections. The past is over and done with. You can choose to let it go. If you think you’re ready and willing to face all the challenges of being your parent’s caregiver, you may want to take it as an opportunity to completely heal. In your parent’s heart, despite how dementia is now ravaging the brain and body, your parent may also find the opportunity to repent and find inner peace.
Cusack, however, emphasized, “Offering assistance is a truly kind gesture, but it is not compulsory. At the very least, there are ways to ensure their well-being from afar, without being personally accountable. Prioritize your own mental and physical health, ditch the guilt, ignore society’s judgments and expectations, and do some soul searching to find the answer that is right for you.”
Correlation Between Eyesight and Dementia
It’s a “chicken and egg” question: Which comes first?
Experts have not found the exact answer yet: if dementia causes eye problems or eyesight problems cause dementia. But there are recent studies that have demonstrated that eyesight problems and dementia may be impacting each other according to Assil Gaur Eye Institute of Los Angeles.
Published in the Aging & Mental Health journal, this study conducted an analytical review of 16 other studies that researched different forms of dementia, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia, along with their respective warning signs.
The researchers discovered that “different types of vision impairment problems are more likely to develop before dementia. In particular, cataracts and diabetes-related eye problems seem to have a strong link with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Another recent study was published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, wherein researchers traced the connection between the speed at which dementia afflicts a person and the onset of other eye problems. Their conclusions? Cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetes-related eye disease all seemed to show a greater risk of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
However, it should be noted that even if glaucoma occurs alongside vascular dementia, it didn’t seem to have any association with higher incidence of AD.
Another important finding of this study is that “the link between both conditions was nearly twice as strong in patients who were battling other ‘systemic conditions’ – such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, or chronic depression.”
Yes, more studies are needed to find answers to all of our questions about dementia. But this latest knowledge is a clear wake-up call to take better care of our physical, mental, and emotional health.
Here’s a video of a new tech that promises to help patients with advanced dementia.