by Dr. Bob Campbell
Everyone forgets things, don't they? Yes and no. We all fumble with people's names and misplace keys. Usually, these memory lapses occur because of stress or inattention (not listening well enough to commit those names to memory in the first place). Sometimes, though, especially in older adults, they signal a serious memory disorder. It is not normal, say, for a man of any age to forget his wife's name-or that he has a wife.
What is dementia? Dementia is not a disease in itself. Rather, it describes a severe loss of cognitive function-that is, our ability to think, perceive, learn, and remember. The loss may be gradual, over many years, or it may come quickly.
What is Alzheimer's Disease? Alzheimer's Disease is one form of irreversible dementia. It gets serious enough to cause impaired memory and spatial organization, as well as changes in personality and behavior.
What can be done for dementia? If memory loss is brought on by drug or alcohol use or treatable conditions such as dehydration, diabetes, or depression, the dementia may be reversible with medical care. If the loss results from the destruction of brain cells related to disease or trauma, it is more likely permanent. Psychological testing and medical brain imagery together can provide a thorough assessment of brain structure and function.
There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer's and other dementias. Psychological and medical treatments have been shown, though, to slow cognitive decline and improve quality of life issues such as communication, mood, and agitation enough to keep someone at home a bit longer.
What can help families? Offering education and skill-training to families and other caretakers is an important part of providing good care for the person with memory loss. Willow Wellness Center professionals can help families understand what to expect with the specific form of dementia and how to ensure that everyone in the family stays safe. We also help family members cope with psychological, spiritual, and practical challenges.
Signs of Dementia
First symptoms of dementia may differ from person to person. Early signs to consult a physician or Willow professional include:
- Asking the same question over and over again
- Repeating the same story, word for word, again and again
- Forgetting how to do one's usual activities-like cooking, making repairs, playing cards
- Losing the ability to pay bills or balance one's checkbook
- Getting lost in familiar places or misplacing items
- Neglecting to bathe regularly or change one's clothing
- Relying on someone else, such as a spouse, to make decisions or answer questions they previously would have handled themselves
- Unexplainable changes in mood and/or personality