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Below are a few of the questions we often receive about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For questions about our specific service areas or charitable giving, please see the linked FAQs below
Dementia is a group of symptoms that affects intellectual and social abilities in someone severely enough that it interferes with their daily living. Some symptoms include memory loss, impaired judgment, and abstract thinking.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia accounting for 60-80% of all cases. Other common forms of dementia include Vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Frontotemporal dementia. Symptoms of dementia can be caused by many conditions like depression and even medication reactions.
It is important to get a complete evaluation if anyone is showing changes in memory or other cognitive abilities.
Not all memory complaints are due to Alzheimer’s or related dementia. Some mild forgetfulness, like a senior moment, or temporarily misplacing your keys can be a part of normal aging. Some memory problems can be related to other health issues that can be treated.
If you suspect someone’s forgetfulness, or another cognitive ability like decreased reasoning skills, or they’re just not acting like themselves is getting in the way of a normal daily routine it is time to see a doctor.
It takes a thorough diagnosis to determine if memory loss is caused by dementia or another condition.
A complete and proper evaluation will obtain medical and family history, including psychiatric history and history of cognitive and behavioral changes.
A physician will conduct cognitive tests, physical and neurologic exams, and will possibly request a brain scan like an MRI.
They should also ask family members or a person close to the individual being tested to provide input.
A diagnosis can come from a primary care physician, geriatrician, neurologist or neurophysiologist.
Please know that no one should be told they have nothing to worry about based on a short screening with a handful of questions.
If you need help in finding a doctor to conduct an evaluation, our staff can refer you to a professional assessment program.
(Diagnosing criteria from Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.)
Again, not all memory complaints are due to Alzheimer’s or related dementia. Many conditions have the same symptoms as dementia but can be treated or reversed.
A proper diagnosis “rules out” all other possible causes of memory complaints that could be treated. If the diagnosis is dementia, it is important to know which type of dementia because care plans can differ and there are medications on the market that can help with each type of dementia.
Currently, there are no medications that can cure or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are several FDA-approved medications that have been shown to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s for a period of time.
Finding the right dosage and combination of medications that is best for your loved one may take some time and close management.
Please note that while these medications can improve the quality of life for some Alzheimer’s patients, they are not a cure and seem to work the best in patients in the early to mid stages of the disease.
The best way to manage Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is a healthy approach to services for the individual with dementia and the caregiver.
It is equally important that caregivers take care of themselves and be healthy so they can provide the best care for their loved ones.
There are many services available to individuals with dementia like adult day programs, stimulating activities and medication management.
Keeping the individual engaged, active in their life choices and focusing on what they can do instead of what they cannot do will help them function better and have a better quality of life.
Education, support groups and respite care are some of the most important services the caregiver and family can use throughout their journey.
Please contact us for more information about our respite services, the free caregiver training and support groups.
Our staff can also refer you to other resources throughout the community.
Several techniques help with communication and managing some challenging behaviors.
Some best practices in communicating with someone with dementia are to place more importance on body language and tone of voice than the actual words. Because of the effects on the brain, individuals with dementia will pick up on body language and tone of voice before they can process the words being used.
Individuals with dementia are sensitive to the environment. For example, if a room is too loud, the individual might have increased anxiety, which can make it more difficult for them and the caregiver to communicate with each other. Make the room less noisy or move to a different room to lessen the anxiety and noise and make it easier to communicate.
Evaluating and keeping a simple and safe environment will make communication more effective and help manage some challenging behaviors.
Please contact James L. West’s caregiver education department to learn more about communication and behavioral techniques.