Coping with the news that your mom or dad has been diagnosed with a long-term, progressive decline in their mental ability is a lot to take in. You will need to find out more about the stages of dementia, treatment options and what to expect in the long run, so that you can be best prepared for your parent's needs now, and in the future.
Dementia is a generic term used to describe a number of conditions which affect a person's mental ability, to the extent that it interferes with their daily life. There are different types of illness that can cause dementia, but Alzheimer's is the most common and is the cause of between 60% and 80% of cases recorded, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
If your parent has dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, his or her symptoms probably came on gradually, and getting to the diagnosis stage may have taken some time. The most common symptom of early Alzheimer's is memory loss; family members often pick up on warning signs before an official diagnosis has been made, including getting stuck searching for commonly used words, or misplacing things.
Vascular dementia is another type of dementia that can occur after a stroke and is caused by a disruption in blood supply to the brain. The progression is similar to that of Alzheimer's, and is usually slow, with changes occurring gradually over a prolonged period of time.
Some people suffer from a type of dementia called “Lewy Body Dementia” which is caused by clumps of protein in the cortex of the brain. As well as memory loss and confusion, people who have this kind of dementia can also suffer from hallucinations and balance problems, which can lead to risks of a fall at home.
There are other kinds of dementia, for example, dementia caused by Parkinson's disease, or Mixed Dementia, that has a number of contributory factors.
Your parent's dementia will be diagnosed by medical professionals following a series of examinations that should include physical exams, mental status tests, a neurological exam and other lab tests that can rule out other causes of your parent's specific symptoms.
Stages of Dementia
Dementia is a progressive illness, in other words, symptoms will get worse over time. The various stages of the condition, as outlined by the Dementia Society of America, each bring with them new challenges, and as your parent's illness progresses, you will find that the level of support and help you need will definitely increase.
- In the early stages, your mom or dad might be able to function almost as normal. The earliest stage of dementia, Mild Cognitive Impairment, will begin to show as your parent starts to misplace items, experience some moments of forgetfulness, and have trouble remembering words.
- Mild Dementia follows, and still, many people can live very independently at this stage. At this time, however, you may notice some personality changes in your parent - they could start to have trouble remembering recent events and will probably begin to need help with tasks such as managing their finances or remembering family birthdays.
- Moderate Dementia describes the stage where daily intervention becomes necessary. Your parent's memory will start to get worse and even events from the distant past might be hard to recall; their judgement will be impaired and their sleeping patterns will be affected. At this point, they will certainly need assistance keeping a daily routine and managing their medication. They may also become confused or agitated by well-meaning family members they no longer recognize.
- Severe Dementia describes further mental decline. People who reach this stage often lose the ability to communicate, need help with tasks such as eating and dressing, and lose control of physical functions. People with severe dementia need full-time care and are more susceptible to infections and illnesses such as pneumonia.
The speed at which your parent's dementia progresses will depend totally on their own illness. If the diagnosis is made early, treatment options are available. Unfortunately, dementia can’t be cured, but the right treatment and care can slow down the process, resulting in a better quality of life for a longer time.
Medication to treat dementia includes cholinesterase inhibitors that boost the levels of chemical messengers connected to memory, and Memantine, which regulates the chemicals involved in learning and memory.
There are also medications that can help with some of the symptoms associated with dementia, such as sleep disturbance and depression. However, prescription medicines are not the only treatments that can help. Occupational therapy, and altering the environment your parent lives in to reduce clutter and noise can also help your parent to focus. Exercise is also known to benefit people with dementia.
You may be wondering how you can continue to care for your parent as his or her dementia worsens, and thankfully, there are many ways in which you can help support their treatment plan. Of course, keeping them on track with their prescribed medication is important, but you can also help by making sure you support the lifestyle changes that are being recommended by your parent's medical team.
Encouraging exercise, a healthy diet plan and establishing new routines that help them to continue to do their favorite activities are just a few ways in which you can start caring for your parent.
Maintaining good levels of communication with your parent will require patience and new techniques, such as making sure to have full eye contact while you are talking, and reducing distraction when you are having a conversation. Make time to talk with your elderly parent and make plans for the future as early as you can so that you can involve them and hear all their wishes.
Caring for someone with dementia full-time can be draining and frustrating, and you will need help and support to make sure you are also caring for yourself during this difficult time. It is important, therefore, to realize that you do not need to take on the full burden of care alone.
As well as support groups in the Massachusetts area, there are other options to help you and your parent to continue living independently for longer, and allow you to live independently from your caring role too. In-home care from a Home Care company can provide the assistance your parent needs to handle tasks such as meal preparation, taking medication and dressing.
Another benefit of Home Care is that it also offers respite so that you can take a break from caring, and a private caregiver can also take a more permanent role in your parent's care schedule when it starts to become too much for you to manage alone.
To find out how Ezra Home Care can provide the assistance your parent needs when suffering from dementia, contact our compassionate and experienced team.