Onset of dementia is gradual, and sometimes, often confused with regular ageing. However, it is important to remember that dementia is nota process of normal ageing. It is an illness and doesn’t affect all elderly people.
Some early signs of dementia to watch out for:
- Memory loss
- Subtle language and communication difficulties
Difficulty planning, making decisions, solving problems
- Becoming inactive and being disinterested in any activity
- Needing help with some of the activities that they were able to do independently previously
As the disease progresses, these are some may experience the following:
- Unable to function independently in many activities of daily living (eg. bathing, dressing, eating, etc.)
- Beginning to forget familiar faces, names, addresses, telephone numbers etc
- Being repetitive in conversations Starting to wander and having difficulty recognising familiar places
In the later stages of the diseases, a PwD –
- Will most likely need most care provided by others
May be unable to recognise people (including close family and friends), or familiar places
- May experience bladder and bowel incontinence
- May display little to no communication or language abilities
WHY IS EARLY DIAGNOSIS OF DEMENTIA IMPORTANT?
Diagnosis of dementia as early as possible is crucial. An early dementia diagnosis is beneficial for not just the PwD but also for those will take care of them.
For practical purposes, it is important for dementia to be diagnosed in the early stages so that doctors can assess the PwD’s medical situation as accurately as possible and subsequently administer the right treatment to improve their prospects. Apart from this, an early diagnosis means the PwD has the capacity to plan and make appropriate decisions for the future. These could be medical, financial, family-related or even in terms of the kind or support they want to receive during their illness. Also, an earlier assessment and treatment may completely cure some of the other conditions, such as thyroid problems or depression.
For the carer, an early diagnosis of dementia can be a valuable. It will give them time to cope with the news that their loved one will soon start to change. They also have the time to prepare for their eventual role as the care-giver – which can be extremely stressful and demanding (physically, emotionally and socially). An early diagnosis also means that the carer doesn’t have to make all important decisions alone; they can involve their loved one as long as they are able to.
Importantly, both the PwD and the carer require time to understand this multi-faceted illness and seek out the best advice and medical care so that they can prepare to face it together. This is vital; dementia can be a dreadfully confusing and isolating illness and it helps to be well-prepared with adequate information and support at the appropriate time.
BEST CARE APPROACHES
Dementia is a progressive disease. Unfortunately, there is no curative treatment. However, a lot can be done to improve the quality of life of the PwD and their carers if the diagnosis is made early and appropriate measures are put in place to plan for the future, thus avoiding many a crisis.
Medicines currently available for the treatment of some types of dementia can help in slowing down the disease process. They also can help in managing some of the common behavioural challenges such as restlessness, aggression, sleep disturbance, etc. They are best chosen and monitored by physicians who are experienced in managing persons with dementia. Also, it is important to note that some medicines may not be appropriate for certain types of dementia.
Best outcomes for persons with dementia and their carers are achieved with multi-disciplinary input involving the family members. Understanding the person with dementia and exploring the meaning of some of their symptoms often help in identifying right interventions. Some PwD may benefit from physiotherapy and occupational therapy inputs. Good nursing interventions will be necessary in those with more severe condition.
Some non-drug interventions for dementia include
- Cognitive Stimulation: Participating in activities and exercises designed to improve memory, problem-solving skills and language ability
- Validation Therapy: Exploring the past and relating it to the ‘now’
- Functional Analysis: Using rehabilitative techniques to manage aggression, anxiety, delusions and hallucinations, wandering behaviours by understanding the motivation driving the behaviour and tackling it at that level