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Why Dementia Should be Treated as a Disability
Dementia is a disease that causes progressive cognitive impairment, making it one of the leading causes of disability among the elderly.2
This disease exhibits a variety of physical, mental, and psychological symptoms, impacting all aspects of one’s life. As dementia progresses, sufferers must depend increasing on others to help them meet their daily needs.
In this article, we aim to provide you, as a caregiver or family member, with the knowledge you need to help your patient or loved one navigate this disease.1
Stages of Dementia
First, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the three stages of dementia.1 They are as follows:
Early – In the early stage, dementia presents itself as small memory lapses, such as difficulty remembering familiar places and events. Individuals in this early stage may have trouble completing tasks that require planning and forethought, such as time management. In most cases, individuals require no special care, and may safely engage in many of the activities that they enjoyed prior to diagnosis, such as driving.3
Middle – In this middle stage, individuals experience more pronounced memory lapses. For instance, they may fail to recognize family members and friends. As their cognitive impairment increases, they will likely need your help more often.Faced with increasing uncertainty, they may also become anxious and depressed.1
Late – In this final stage, the forgetfulness of the early and middle stages becomes severe. Individuals may lose the ability to perform essential functions such as eating, walking, talking, washing, and toileting, becoming utterly dependent on others for their basic needs.1,4 While having knowledge of dementia is essential for supporting individuals at all stages of disease progression, and it is particularly crucial at this one.
As these three stages show, dementia negatively impacts one’s physical, social, and psychological wellbeing. However, with proper medical treatment and adequate social supports, persons with dementia can continue to lead happy and fulfilled lives.
Treatment of dementia begins long before symptoms appear, with preventative health practices. Individuals should maintain a healthy lifestyle by consuming nutritious foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and staying physically active.
They should also meet regularly with their family doctor and other healthcare specialists.3,4 By taking these measures, individuals who are at risk for dementia may help slow or delay the onset of this disease.
As their dementia progresses, maintaining regular contact and follow-up with your patient or loved one is crucial.
By gently reminding them to take their medications and attend their doctor’s appointments, you will help them maintain optimal health and stability. You may also want to encourage your patient or loved one to take part in a support group or visit a psychologist. Through these sessions, they will have the opportunity to discuss their feelings with others.
This, in turn, will make them less likely to resort to unhealthy coping strategies as they adjust to living with this disease.3,4
Last but not least, encourage your patient or loved one to get a decent night’s sleep. This will help them feel energetic and alert during the day.
By engaging in regular physical activity and maintain a quiet living space that’s conducive to rest, they will minimize their risk of insomnia, thus ensuring a restful sleep throughout the night.4
While proper lifestyle choices and medical treatment are important for supporting the health of individuals with dementia, they aren’t the only factors.
When it comes to maintaining social and psychological health, staying connected with others is critical. Encourage your patient or loved one to keep up social ties and community involvement as much as possible. If their symptoms are mild, they may be able to take part in social groups, volunteer, or even engage in paid work.
If their symptoms are more severe, merely encouraging social interactions with family members and close friends may be more realistic.
Whatever form these interactions take, staying social will help your patient or loved one keep connected with others, and will prevent them from feeling lonely and isolated.
Interacting with a Dementia Sufferer
Regardless of what other social interactions your patient or loved one engages in, remember that you are their first point of contact. As such, it’s vital that you are treating them with dignity and respect. There are several ways to do this. Here are just a few:
- Maintain a peaceful environment and demeanour.4 For instance, when discussing dementia with your patient or loved one, be honest and direct, but stay calm so as not to cause them undue worry or distress.
- Speak slowly and simply, at a moderate volume and pace, using short words that your patient or loved one will understand. This will make it easier for them to participate in the conversation and will help them feel included.
- Ask one question at a time, avoiding those that require your patient or loved one to recall past details or events. This will keep them from feeling disoriented or rushed and will give them time to process your questions and respond appropriately.
- Use cues to remind your patient or loved one of the important details. For instance, you might help them set an alarm clock to remind them of things they need to do throughout the day, such as taking their medications, eating, napping, and going to the bathroom. A calendar may also help them keep track of important dates.
As a caregiver or family member, you have a primary role to play in helping your patient or loved one navigate dementia. By familiarizing yourself with the three stages of dementia, supporting your loved one or patient in seeking treatment, encouraging them to stay social, and treating them with dignity and respect, you can help them lead a happy and fulfilled life.
1. World Health Organization. Dementia [Internet]. World Health Organization; 2020 [cited 2019 November 2]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia
2. Department of Communities, Disability Services. What is disability? [Internet]. Government of Western Australia; n.d. [cited 2019 November 29]. Available from: http://www.disability.wa.gov.au/understanding-disability1/understanding-disability/what-is-disability/
3. National Health Service. What to do if you have just been diagnosed with dementia [Internet]. National Health Service; 2017 [cited 2019 November 29]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/diagnosis-plan/
4. Janssen Pharmaceutica NV. Coping with dementia [Internet]. Janssen Pharmaceutica NV; 2013 [cited 2019 November 29]. Available from: https://www.dementia.com/coping-with.html