With the goal of providing practical tips on dealing with the complexities of dementia, the Lacombe History Presentation Series continued with a talk called ‘Exploring Dementia’ recently at the Lacombe Memorial Centre.
The evening’s featured speaker was Laurie Grande, regional lead, client services and programs with the Alzheimer’s Society’s Red Deer branch.
Dementia is a term that actually covers several conditions – one of which is Alzheimer’s Disease. Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy Body disease, and frontotemporal dementia among others.
According to the Society’s web site, dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.
“Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. A person with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behaviour. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse as more brain cells become damaged and eventually die.”
Grande said that at the time of diagnosis, the various dementias are the least similar. But as they run their course, the impact of each becomes more similar in nature to the others. It’s also virtually impossible to know precisely what course the particular dementia will take from person to person.
She added that first off, it’s critical to remember that the loved one with dementia can’t help their behaviour. “It can be confusing for family members because although most of the time a person will show these cognitive problems, there will be days when they have a bright moment and they won’t show that decline.”
During those times of inconsistency, it can be quite confusing for family members – particularly during doctor visits when the person – for the duration of the appointment – shows little if any problem. Grande said that at that point, it’s helpful for family members to perhaps schedule a doctor’s appointment without the loved one present, where they can have a good, honest discussion about what they’ve observed over the past several weeks or months.
But sooner or later, the symptoms become unmistakable as the dementias are progressive and irreversible.
Short-term memory, long-term memory, the capacity to reason things out and the communication centres of the brain are key areas that ultimately are affected.
“What happens when you have dementia is that plaques and tangles begin to develop,” said Grande. “They start to deposit along these highways and the first place we notice this is in the short-term memory.” Retrieval of information becomes more difficult. “As time goes on these plaques and tangles get to be more dense, and there gets to be more deterioration,” she said.
As the dementia worsens and the short-term memory is affected, some people won’t be able to take part in conversations where more recent events are the focus, for example. They may tend to withdraw from social contact because they feel like they can’t engage like they could have at one time.
Repetitive question also can also surface as well.
“They will ask you when they are going to the doctor’s. Then they may leave for a bit, then they ask again. The burden on a caregiver can be so great because this can go on all day long.
“It’s important to remember that they can’t help it because they can’t access their short-term memory anymore. It’s best if you are providing care for somebody to not give them a lot of information because they can’t hold onto it. Maybe put up a white board in the house and put up just enough information to just get them through the day,” she explained.
“A whole calender for the whole month is not good for someone with dementia. Just today’s date, and the central things.”
Grande said it’s about simplifying communication.
Adding to the difficulty is that early on, people with dementia can also see these memory issues starting to become a bigger problem in their lives.
Meanwhile, Grande encourages folks with a dementia diagnosis and their families to get in touch with the local Society branch. There are a number of resources that can provide support, including support groups which offer a source of strength, fellowship and shared knowledge.
“This is a progressive, degenerative disease. There is nothing that is going to stop it. It’s going to move forward and there is no cure for it,” she said. But in the meantime, there is life to be lived, and to that end knowledge and finding a supportive community can go a long ways.
“A lot of people say that once they got a diagnosis, people stopped asking them questions and stopped asking them for their opinions. They quit engaging with them which is such a shame. Just because you have some cognitive issues doesn’t mean you stop talking to others.
“We find that if people are really up front with their friends about what is going on, then the friends don’t fall by the wayside. It’s best just to be honest and clear with people about what is happening.”
For more information, check out www.alzheimer.ca or call the Red Deer office at 403-342-0448.