What is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions affecting the brain that get worse over time. It is the loss of the ability to think, remember, and reason to levels that affect daily life and activities. Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions and other behaviours, and their personality may change.
Dementia affects each person in a different way, depending upon the underlying causes, other health conditions and the person’s cognitive functioning before becoming ill.
Typical signs and symptoms?
Many people associate dementia with memory loss. This is because memory problems are often one of the early symptoms of a dementia, but they are not the only one. The symptoms of dementia can vary, depending on the type of dementia and what areas of the brain are affected. Symptoms may include:
- Memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion
- Changes in the ability to speak, understand, and express thoughts and/or words and to write and read
- Wandering and getting lost in a familiar area, town or village
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Repeating questions
- Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities or events
- Not caring about other people’s feelings
- Problems with balance and movement
More infrequent signs & symptoms
People with dementia and those caring for them can face great challenges, including the person’s ability to handle tasks, changes in family relationships, loss of work, and the need for more care as the underlying disease progresses. People in the earlier stages of dementia may need help with daily activities, while people with advanced dementia may need constant care and supervision.
Other infrequent signs and symptoms of dementia include:
- Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
- Acting impulsively
- Wakeful nights
- Anxiety and fearfulness
- Fixating on a certain task or topic
- Resentful towards loved-ones
Getting a diagnosis
Visiting your GP is often the first step for people who are experiencing symptoms of dementia. Your GP may refer you to a neurologist, which is a specialist in disorders of the brain and nervous system.
The doctor will also need to rule out any other illness that can mimic the symptoms of dementia, such as depression, vitamin deficiencies and thyroid issues.
To diagnose dementia, a doctor will complete a medical history, physical exam, and neurological tests that assess balance, sensory response, reflexes, and memory and thinking skills. In addition, a doctor may order brain scans, blood tests, genetic tests, and a mental health evaluation to help determine a diagnosis.
Because different types of dementia can share similar symptoms, making an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. In addition, dementia may be difficult to diagnose as a single disease given that a person could have more than one type.
No treatments currently exist to stop or slow dementia caused by Alzheimer’s or related dementias. Medication may temporarily improve or stabilize memory and thinking skills in some people and may help manage certain symptoms and behavioural problems.
It can often take time to diagnose dementia and a second visit may be required.
Asking for help
Your loved one has received a diagnosis of dementia- this can be a challenging time for all involved. It is very important that you ask for local help upon receipt of a diagnosis.
Before you leave your consultant, you should ask for the contact details of your local Dementia Advisor. The dementia advisor provides an individualised signposting and emotional support service to people living with dementia, their families and carers. It is a free and confidential service that can be carried out on a home visit and/or over the phone.
If your consultant is not aware of who you should contact, please call 094-9364900 for support and
Infection & Dementia
People with dementia have an increased risk for infection, which may be due to an altered immune response, while a poor immune response to infection places elderly individuals at increased risk for dementia.
When a person living with dementia contracts an infection, this can lead to the magnification of severe dementia symptoms over night!
Typically, a person whose cognitive functioning is intact would tell us of some pain they’re experiencing or express that they don’t feel well, but dementia makes this process more difficult because the person can’t always find the words to express a feeling or concern.
A person with dementia who is experiencing an infection may demonstrate the following symptoms:
- Fever- You might not be able to rely on the person to be able to fully verbalize feeling hot, but you should pay attention to an extra warm forehead, dry lips or skin, or signs of shivering.
- Increased Confusion- Although it may sound like a challenge to notice confusion in someone who already has dementia, an infection often can cause significant changes that may include increased disorientation to those around him, his location and the time, as well as poor judgment.
- Pain or Discomfort- Watch for non-verbal signs of pain such as grimacing, guarding against touch, crying, refusing to eat and restlessness.
- Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms- Check your loved one’s urine for increased odour, cloudiness, dark colour or blood in urine.
- Increased Lethargy- An out-of-the-ordinary fatigue, apathy and desire to sleep can indicate infection.
- Decreased Appetite
Some infections can cause nausea and vomiting, and others might just cause someone to feel a little “off” to the point where they just don’t want to eat.
- Falling – Infections can affect balance and cause muscle weakness. If your loved one has a fall, be sure to consider if they might have an infection.
- Paranoia, Delusions, or Hallucinations – Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there could be indicative of an infection, especially if your loved one does not normally experience hallucinations. Some people become very suspicious of others when they have an infection.
- Behaviour Changes- Many people with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia experience challenging behaviours, but an infection can cause a significant increase in the frequency and intensity of such behaviours. For example, your loved one might regularly be somewhat resistive to getting dressed in the morning, but an infection could trigger a catastrophic reaction where they are screaming, swearing, hitting and throwing things. As with other symptoms, the key to detecting an infection is that the behaviour or other symptom is worse than normal or changed from what is normal.
- Delirium – An infection, among other conditions, can trigger delirium. Knowing the difference between delirium and dementia can help you consider if your loved one is possibly in need of treatment for an infection.
Types of Infections
There are many types of infections, but the most common types are an upper respiratory infection (such as pneumonia) and urinary tract infections. Others may include infections of the sinuses, ears, skin, and teeth.
What to Do If You Think Your Loved One Has an Infection
Advocate for him. Inform the doctor, and begin by explaining what his normal behaviour, mood, and cognitive functioning are. Be sure to explain any changes, as well as if he has a history of frequent urinary tract infections, for example.
If an antibiotic is prescribed, be sure to administer the whole course that is prescribed, even if your loved one appears to be feeling better. Sometimes, doctors might recommend additional treatments, such as an inhaler or nebulizer for an upper respiratory infection. If your loved one is resistive to whatever kind of treatment that is prescribed, notify the physician again so that an alternative treatment can be considered.
- Wash hands and use hand sanitizer
- Avoid the use of a catheter if at all possible
- Get an annual flu shot for both you and your loved one
- Practice good hygiene if assisting with incontinence
- Encourage adequate hydration