One of the things we all fear as we get older is the prospect of developing dementia. If you are like me, every time that I forget something that I feel I shouldn’t, I wonder, is this the start??…. But as we age, there is a certain amount of ‘forgetfulness’ that is not indicative of dementia. We should not suspect dementia with every memory lapse that we experience! Misplacing your car keys once in a while is not a problem; putting the hairdryer in the refrigerator or forgetting how to write a check (if it is something that you have done all your life), is.
It is important to remember the memory problems in a person with dementia develop very slowly over time. Dementia can affect the person’s ability to think, remember, plan, process, understand and reason as well as affect their judgment. Another symptom that might become noticeable (and sometimes the most difficult to handle) is a change in a person’s personality.
I know that with my father we noticed the memory issues but it was when I noticed a man, known for his patience and kindness, become frustrated with others and speak unkindly to loved-ones that in my mind the full picture of dementia was present.
There are many forms of dementia and each may exhibit slightly different patterns of memory loss and personality changes. The form that we hear about the most, of course, is Alzheimer’s disease and this has become a default term for dementia in general. Only a doctor can make the determination about the type of dementia a person is experiencing (or rule out other conditions that could be a factor in the memory issues). Any form of ongoing and sustained memory loss should be evaluated by a physician. Early diagnosis is important as there are some medications that may be of benefit in the earlier stages of the disease process. These treatments do not cure or halt the disease process but they can slow the progression of symptoms.
Dementia is a difficult road for the entire family; not just the person suffering the symptoms. I know that for my father suffering from memory issues must be one of his worst nightmares. He spent 46 years in the classroom teaching theology and religion at a major university. Many classes of students sought his wisdom. While he can still talk at length about ingrained basic theology courses that he taught for years, he has lost the capacity to read, study and process any new information.
For families, it is often referred to as the ‘long goodbye’. Watching your loved one decline and often get to a point of not recognizing you is a painful experience. I often have needed to remind my mother that it is the dementia, not Dad, which is causing an issue. While you can know that in your head, the hard part is placing it in your heart.
If you are going through the process of dementia with a loved one, I encourage you to seek help in your community. If you don’t know where to start, go to alz.org to locate a support group in your area. Being in community with others who are experiencing a similar path can help sustain you through that time. And if there is any way that I might be of assistance, you know where to find me (www.parentcarealliance.com)……..
On the journey with you…….Kathy