Dementia 101: What You Need to Know

Too often as we age, our memories and cognitive function is robbed from us. Over time, family and friends slowly become strangers while the tasks that once were simple, like managing and paying bills, can become difficult.  These can be signs of a condition known as Dementia.  

 What do you, as a caregiver, need to know about this condition? Alzheimer’s Research in the UK has a few basic points that you, the caregiver, and/or the loved one need to know about caring for a senior with dementia. Dementia itself is not a disease.

Dementia is actually a combination of several diseases and is simply an umbrella term for the symptoms associated with these diseases, such as memory loss, confusion, and changes in personality. 

Dementia, once called “senility,” can be a horrible, unforgiving condition.  Dementia is not a disease, but rather a general term for the decline in mental acuity. 

The Alzheimer's Association defines Dementia as a "term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities." 

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases.  

Vascular Dementia is the second most common and usually occurs after a stroke or a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or mini-stroke. 

Other types of dementia include Parkinson's Disease Dementia, Mixed Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, and Huntington's Disease.

What causes dementia?

In many cases, researchers do not know exactly why one person suffers from dementia while another does not. Most experts in the field now believe the majority of dementia cases occur as a result of many complex interactions. 

It is most helpful, though to think in terms of factors that increase the risk of dementia. The most important risk factors are age, family history, and heredity. Other risk factors include: ginger (women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's than men); ethnicity; cardiovascular health; depression; lack of physical activity; smoking; diet; excessive alcohol consumption; head injuries.

Is Dementia Inherited?

We know genetics are definitely involved in the development of Alzheimer's. There are two types of genes that play a role - risk genes and deterministic genes. The Alzheimer's Association has a webpage that discusses in depth the genetic component of Alzheimer's.

It’s possible to live an independent and active life with dementia.

Dementia is not necessarily a sentence that involves having to have others care for you around the clock, nor does it mean your life will completely change. There are many strategies and support mechanisms that help patients live as normal a life as possible, including new hobbies, music therapy, animal therapy, and making friends. 

Dementia doesn’t discriminate. 

No one is immune to dementia. While some will develop it and some will not, there are cases of both in all socioeconomic groups, races, genders, and areas of the world. 

There are no treatments to stop the diseases that cause dementia.   

While it is possible to alleviate the symptoms of dementia, there is no cure, and there is no way via treatment with medicine or other means to stop the disease. Once the disease is present, it will continue to get worse over time. 

Keep things in perspective. 

 This will be a very trying and difficult time for all involved, but not every day will be stressful. These have been just a few suggestions they feel are necessary for anyone involved in the care of a senior afflicted with this condition. By adhering to some common-sense coping mechanisms and by understanding what the condition is and what it isn’t, a caregiver and/or a loved one can make the most of the precious time left with their senior. That is something none of us should ever forget.

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