What is Dementia?
Dementia is often perceived as a disease. It’s not. Dementia is a collection of symptoms that indicates a loss or diminution of cognitive function—thinking, remembering and reasoning—to the extent that it negatively impacts your quality of life. Those who suffer from dementia might even become incapable of performing basic behavioral activities such as self-management, language and visual perception.
The symptoms of Dementia are progressive. This suggests that once started, it will continually get worse. The most common form of Dementia is Alzheimer. So much so, that 60-80% of Dementia cases are Alzheimer's. The second most common is vascular dementia.
Per the Alzheimer’s Association, significant impair of two of the following cognitive abilities is required for dementia to be diagnosed:
o Communication and language
o Ability to focus and pay attention
o Reasoning and judgement
o Visual perception
Why is Early Diagnosis Important?
There are quite a few benefits to early diagnosis of any disease or medical condition. Dementia can take some time to progress, and ideally, we want to identify it as soon as possible. There are 3 main stages in Dementia. This gives you time for early diagnosis and regaining control of the condition and your life. Early diagnosis allows you to:
o Take control of the condition: grieve your condition and the change that is coming, see the necessary specialists, make plans for you and your family
o Treat and slow the progression: though irreversible, treatment can slow the progression of the symptoms of the dementia, granting you more time and freedom
o Utilize available resources: there are plenty of things out there to help you cope with Dementia. Early diagnoses allows you to enjoy those benefits, whether they are support groups or just informational events or online platforms
o Rearrange your priorities: the sooner you know, the sooner you can re-prioritize your family and friends and even yourself. Then, you can focus on spending time with those you love and doing what you love.
Dealing with Dementia as a patient or a loved one is difficult. It may take some time to process what has and is happening to you. Early diagnosis will help you and your family to deal with the situation better. So look for the following signs:
Memory Loss that Makes Daily Life Challenging
Memory loss is often perceived as part of aging. The type of memory loss that Dementia patients suffer from in the early stage is noticeably different. If you’ve observed short-term memory loss where new information is not being retained the same or you (or your loved one) is asking for the same information repeatedly, then there is cause for concern. The questions often resemble: “What time is it?” “Where are we going” “What is his/her name? I can’t remember.”
Issues with Problem-Solving and Planning
Daily tasks become difficult. The capacity for reasoning and problem-solving is affected and therefore, most activities that involve numbers or planning are tedious and frustrating. Following a recipe or an instruction manual is now more a hassle than help.
Confusion about Time and Place
If you watch TV, then you're familiar with this one: How often do Dementia patients in movies get flustered when they all-of-a-sudden are unaware of their location? One moment, you might know exactly where you are and what time you got there. The following moment, it may be impossible for you to remember how or when you got there.
In the video, Alice got lost going to the bathroom in her own home.
Difficulty with Visual Perception
Problems with visual perception if often related to Alzheimer’s, but since most reported cases of Dementia are Alzheimer’s, this is an important sign to consider. Beware of difficulty reading, judging distance and processing color and contrast as they rely heavily on the visual perception function that is now impaired.
Diminishing Communication and Language skills
Communication and language is another barrier in the early stage of Dementia. An early sufferer of dementia gets easily lost in mid-sentence or struggles with vocabulary where there was no previous struggle. Often times, like a toddler, a dementia patient will start repeating themselves because they don’t know how to completely express an idea.
Poor Judgement and Reasoning
A large part of our cognitive functions is to help us make good or logical decisions. In dementia, this function is reduced or just non-existent. Therefore, we will often find that people suffering from dementia make decisions that make seem completely irrational.
Example: Jane, a financial adviser, spent a crazy amount of money on a 60-inch TV. Jane doesn’t need the TV and she cannot afford it.
This is not only irrational and a poor decision, but atypical behavior for Jane, a financial adviser.
Increase in Mood Swings
If you were to you find yourself somewhere unfamiliar and unaware of how you got there OR around people that you can’t recognize, how do you imagine you would react?
Those with dementia often have mood swings or are easily irritated because they are often confused and feel overwhelmed by where they are and whom they’re with.
Dementia is scary. Not just for the person diagnosed, but for the loved ones as well. Identifying the symptoms earlier can mitigate the burden on all involved.
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