Haims: Care differs between Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (column)
November 20, 2017
Alzheimer's and 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 exists. The Alzheimer's Association says Alzheimer's accounts for 60 percent to 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, then 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), such as urinary tract infections, which are quite common among older adults. UTIs can be easily treated and reverse the symptoms.
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.
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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, such as 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. Knowing your options is the best way to be prepared.
When seeking the right caregiver, inquire about the caregiver's 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, then 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.
You are the best person to communicate your loved one's needs, as dementia can rob them 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 Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns.