Dealing with Dementia

State Of Dementia

You wake without your passport in a foreign city:

Jet lagged, not sure of the day, the time.

You have the wrong clothes, the wrong money.

Your do not know the language, the way to go home.

On the street people rush about, busy, important.

They jabber over your head.

You need a bathroom, don’t know how to ask in this tongue.


Author: Mary Damon Pelletier


As we grow older, it is normal to forget things and then to remember them later.  Misplacing items, finding yourself in a room and wondering why you are there, and becoming weary of work, family and social obligations, fortunately can be attributed to some normal changes with aging.  I have found myself dealing with some of these issues.  Remembering names can also be a challenge.  I use the alphabet to trigger my memory with pretty good results.  If you are like I am, dementia is not a subject which is fun to talk or write about.  Unfortunately, as our population grows increasingly older, this disease is becoming more prevalent.  Therefore we need to understand dementia and how to deal with it, to make our lives the best they can be.


What is dementia?  Dementia is a general term for a decline in a person’s mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.  Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for approximately 70% of the cases.  Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common type of dementia.  There are other medical conditions such as depression, medication side effects, excess use of alcohol, thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies that have symptoms of dementia, but can be treated and are reversible. That is why it is so important to see your doctor if you notice any decline in your mental ability. Many dementias start out slowly and gradually get worse.  Early diagnosis is very important since it allows the person to get the maximum benefit from available treatments and time to plan for the future.

What are the symptoms of dementia?  Symptoms may vary, but having a significant impairment with at least two of the following mental functions would be considered dementia.

–         Memory (loss that disrupts daily life)

–         Communication and language (trouble following or joining a conversation)

–         Ability to focus and to pay attention (difficulties with money, cooking and poor concentration)

–         Reasoning and judgment (poor decision making)

–         Visual perception (problems with reading, driving, and judging distance)


What causes dementia?  Injury to brain cells interferes with their ability to communicate with each other.  This damage may be caused by a stroke or as in Alzheimer’s Disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and communicate with each other.  Consequently, a person’s thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected.  Our brain is made up of many regions that control different functions, such as memory, judgment and movement.  When any of these areas are affected, a person cannot function normally.  Most often the brain’s center of learning and memory is the first to be impaired.  Therefore, memory loss is one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

What determines a dementia diagnosis?  Unfortunately, there is no one simple test to determine if someone has dementia.  Doctors need to make the diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementias based on a thorough medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests and careful review of a person’s day-to-day function and behavior.  Psychological testing may also be done. 

What is the treatment and care for a person with dementia? Depending on the cause, there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve the symptoms.  Non-drug therapies can also be used to alleviate some of the symptoms of dementia.


What are the risk factors and methods for prevention of dementia?   Age and genetics are two major risk factors for dementia that cannot be changed.  As we grow older, we have a higher possibility of acquiring some form of dementia.  Having a family history of dementia is thought to increase our chances of developing this disease.

The good news is that researchers believe there are three areas on which we can work to delay or prevent the onset of dementia.

–         Cardiovascular risk factors:  Because our brain is nourished by blood vessels, anything that can harm these vessels deprives the heart and brain of vital food and oxygen.  Vascular dementia is caused by this type of damage.  This type of dementia can also compound the symptoms of other dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease.  You can protect your brain and heart by keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar within the recommended limits.  Maintaining a healthy weight also decreases the stress on your cardiovascular system. As always, it goes without saying, the elimination of smoking would be one of the best things a person could do to improve his or her circulation and overall health.

–         Physical and mental exercise:  Evidence suggests that regular physical and mental exercise may help lower the risk of some types of dementia. Increasing the blood and oxygen flow to the brain by increasing your activity has a direct benefit to the brain cells.  Always check with your doctor for the appropriate exercise plan to suit your needs.  Word games, computer games, reading and socializing can be a wonderful way to keep your mind active.

–         Diet: Keeping your heart healthy is one of the most important ways to keep your brain healthy.  The appropriate diet will help to ensure that the heart is able to maintain the proper circulation to make certain the brain is well nourished.  A heart healthy diet consists of relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.

Nobody wants to think about the possibility of having dementia. However, it is reassuring to know that there are ways of improving your health and decreasing the possibility of developing dementia.  During my years at the Farrar Home, I have witnessed many residents with some form of dementia.  I have often seen improvement in their conditions when they receive the proper treatment.  Working with medical professionals to maintain control of your health, regular exercise (both physical and mental), an appropriate diet and, sometimes the use of prescribed medication are ways to ensure you are doing all that you can for yourself.

Living life to the best of our abilities and taking good care of ourselves and other people will help to make the world a better place for everyone.