Haims column: Care differs between Alzheimer’s and dementia
Alzheimer’s. Dementia. The words are used interchangeably, but there is a difference, and it’s worth knowing,
Dementia is an umbrella term under which Alzheimer’s — the most common type of dementia — falls. It is not a disease; rather, the term dementia speaks in a general way to memory loss and changes in cognitive abilities that are serious enough to impact day-to-day life. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the specific types of dementia that exist.
How common is Alzheimer’s? The Alzheimer’s Association says it accounts for 60-80 percent of all cases of dementia.
Memory loss is the symptom that is most commonly associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s, but it’s not the only one. Language is affected. Visuospatial function (that’s the ability to correctly judge the position of objects, to read a map or road signs, etc.) is affected, as is executive function (the ability to reason, focus on a task, solve problems or plan). These symptoms together contribute to cognitive decline and disrupt daily life.
If you have concerns about a loved one but do not have a diagnosis of dementia yet, set an appointment with a medical professional immediately.
Is it actually Dementia?
Your mother often forgets where she put her keys, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she has dementia.
Some medical conditions can cause dementia-like symptoms (and in most cases, the onset of these symptoms is extremely sudden), like urinary tract infections (UTls), which are quite common among older adults. UTI can be easily treated and the symptoms reversible.
Depression, drug interactions, excessive alcohol use, vitamin deficiencies and thyroid problems can also cause dementia-like symptoms.
Getting a Diagnosis, Directing Care Decisions
There are so many types of dementia that getting an accurate diagnosis can be quite difficult; however, since the different types of dementia present in different ways, understanding the specific type your loved one has is vital for future caregiving decisions.
For example, a person diagnosed with Parkinson’s dementia will be dealing not only with memory loss, but also with gait (i.e., the “Parkinson’s shuffle”) and balance issues, as well as vision issues, like a lack of spatial awareness or depth perception. This will make safe mobility nearly impossible without assistance.
A person with Parkinson’s dementia will probably fall more often than someone with Alzheimer’s. As the tremors of Parkinson’s intensify, basic daily tasks will become difficult, whereas many people with Alzheimer’s maintain physical abilities well after the cognitive decline begins.
What Type of Alzheimer’s or Dementia Care is Best?
Any caregiving journey is unpredictable, but adding a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s takes unpredictability to the next level.
Whether you’re in the earliest stages of caring for someone recently diagnosed or still seeking a diagnosis, knowing your options is the best way to be prepared.
When seeking the right caregiver, inquire about the caregivers’ skills, training and past experiences with dementia or with your loved one’s specific diagnosis.
Here is a common home care scenario to consider: A family caregiver approaches an agency because Mom needs help with bathing, dressing and her personal hygiene. If Mom needs help with these tasks because she just had a hip replacement, the agency will assign a caregiver based on that physical need and limitation.
But if Mom needs help with these daily tasks because she is losing cognitive ability and balance due to Parkinson’s dementia, the care provider will need to have an awareness of potential vision and gait issues and how they will impact safe, comfortable bathing.
No matter what type of care you choose, your involvement as an advocate is paramount throughout the entire process. You are the best person to communicate your loved one’s needs as dementia can rob them of the ability to speak for themselves.
Be proactive, ask questions, and seek help. There are many educational resources available.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.
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