What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe conditions that result in the progressive loss of mental (cognitive) functions.  When severe memory loss and confusion occur over many months or years it is referred to as dementia.  This means that brain cells are failing to function as effectively as they do in normal aging.  The definition of normal aging, according to Catherine Johnson, PsyD, LP, is when our ability to instantly recall information becomes more difficult, multitasking is more challenging and/or it takes longer to learn or retain new information.

Studies show that approximately one quarter of persons that are suffering dementia have vascular dementia (damage to the blood supply to the brain), and three fourths suffer from conditions such as dementia associated with alcoholism, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, thyroid dysfunction, pernicious anemia and other, rare conditions. The remainder have Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.  It starts very gradually and progresses slowly but steadily. The disability experienced can vary from one person to another and from day to day. Common difficulties include; memory loss, impaired judgment, personality changes, difficulties with speech and conversation, difficulty with decision-making, wandering, repetitive questions, sleep disturbance and sometimes depression, suspiciousness, aggressive behavior and incontinence.

There are no tests that can definitely diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, therefore, the diagnosis is primarily made on the basis of symptoms. An early diagnosis may help to relieve much anxiety experienced by the person suffering the disability, as well as those caring for the individual.

For the caregiver, support is crucial.  You will need the support that comes from sharing thoughts and feelings with others. Consider joining a support group so you can share your feelings with others that may be having similar experiences.  In Wimberley there is a group that meets at the Presbyterian Church the 1st Thursday of each month at 1:00 p.m.

Also, ask for help.  For many this is not as easy as it may sound.  It is difficult to ask for and accept help.  Realize that it is difficult to care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease all alone.  Determine what kind of help you need and let people know.

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