Dementia is loss of cognitive functions and behavioural abilities which interferes in a person’s daily life and activities. Cognitive functions include remembering, thinking, reasoning, etc. It generally involves memory loss.
People with dementia often cannot control their emotions and they face problems in memory, vision-perception, language skills, problem-solving, critical thinking, etc. Dementia varies from mild to severe stages.
In the severe stages, the person is completely dependent on others for basic activities. It has cognitive as well as psychological symptoms. Some of them are:
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- Memory loss – Subtle changes in their memory. Older patients would often remember an event which might have taken place in their distant past but would not remember what they ate for lunch.
- Difficulty in communication – They might have difficulty in explaining their thoughts or in finding correct words or phrases.
- Difficulty in the coordination of motor movements – In the severe stage, it would be difficult for them to carry out simple voluntary movements, which include the coordination of different body parts.
- Difficulty in cognitive activities – They might find it difficult to follow or learn a new game or activity or the complex task like balancing a chequebook or play any complicated game which might involve many rules.
- Delusions and Hallucinations – A delusion is a person’s false belief which is in contradiction to evidence and is not explained by person’s religious or cultural concepts. Hallucination is experiencing something which is really not there. For example, seeing flashlights or some animal, etc. People with dementia might harbour delusions or hallucinations.
- Stress and Anxiety – Not being able to remember faces of people, different events, having difficulty in completing normal tasks, etc, lead to a build-up of stress in them which at times causes anxiety.
- Anger issues – Because of their memory issues, they tend to be very confused and this can lead to frustrations which further can cause outbursts of anger.
How can we prevent Dementia?
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Research suggests that we could delay or prevent the onset of dementia. These can be done by making a few lifestyle changes. Some of the preventive measures are :
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- Good Quality Sleep – In a study which was lead by Maiken Nedergaard, it was found that “glymphatic system” is ten times more active during sleep than while awake. This cleaning system removes proteins called amyloid-beta, which accumulate into the plaques that contribute to dementia. Therefore, good-quality sleep is important to prevent dementia. Also, quality of sleep is much more important than quantity of sleep.
- Reduce anxiety – In a study which was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, it was found that participants who had severe anxiety had 135% more chances to develop Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Exercising – According to the Alzheimer’s Association, physical exercise encourages the development of new brain cells and protects the brain, which in turn reduces the risk of developing these disease.
- Saying ‘No’ to Tobacco – According to the report “Tobacco Use and Dementia” which was published by World Health Organization (WHO) in the year 2014, it was found that smokers have 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers.
Taking care of patients with dementia
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It can be a bit exhausting to take care of patients. It is indeed a difficult and at the same time a very important responsibility as cognitive losses in this disease are substantial and would, over time, lead to memory loss. Some of the tips for caregivers of dementia patients can be :
- Being patient and calm – This is one of the most needed skill for the caregiver. It is necessary for them to be patient and calm even when they tend to forget things repeatedly or ask for something continuously. One must wait patiently for them to give their responses.
- Paying attention to non-verbal behaviour – We know that actions speak louder than words, and so it is necessary to set a positive mood for interaction with patients. It is important to listen to them fully and pay attention to their non-verbal cues and actions.It is equally important to communicate with them with love, respect and positivity.
- Using simple words and sentences in communication – It is important to state the message clearly and slowly without raising one’s voice or pitch while communicating with them so that they understand what is being said. Even if they do not, it is necessary to repeat the message clearly with the same tone.
- Being nostalgic – Many patients tend to remember their good old days. To remember their happy past can be a very good and healthy activity. Information from their distant past is more likely to be retained than the recent past. So caregivers can engage in asking patients general questions about their past.
A psychological condition like Dementia can take a toll, not only on the patient, but also on their family and immediate caregivers. It is important that it is addressed with extreme care and love.
(Written by Ms. Riddhi Panchal, Research Associate, The MINDS Foundation. Edited by Shruti Singhal)