November is National Alzheimer’s Month and Caregivers Month, and Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMUoHP) is highlighting our programs that serve both individuals who have dementia and their caregivers.
Dementia is a general term used to describe a group of conditions characterized by a decline in brain function that affects memory, language, and other thinking skills. At RMUoHP, students in the Masters of Science in Speech-Language Pathology Program (MS SLP) learn that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for over half of all dementia diagnoses.
Understanding the diagnosis and type of dementia can help caregivers be prepared for the progression of symptoms and how best to support those they care for.
Dementia diagnoses include:
- Alzheimer’s Disease typically onsets after age 65. Early symptoms include difficulty remembering new information because abnormal protein deposits for amyloid plaques and tau proteins form tangles in the part of the brain associated with new learning. The Alzheimer’s Association provides local and regional support for those with Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Probably the second most common type of dementia, Vascular Dementia comes about from reduced blood flow to the brain, causing the cells to be deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Once described as “Hardening of the Arteries” or “multiple little strokes,” Vascular dementia can present as confusion, disorientation, difficulty with word-finding and speaking or understanding speech, and memory loss.
- Perhaps the third most common dementia type, Lewy Body Dementia is caused by a type of protein (Alpha-synuclein) that forms into Lewy bodies which invade the brain and cause progressive decline. Symptoms include changes in thinking, reasoning confusion, and decreased alertness, as well as motor issues, balance issues, ‘freezing’ of movements, and delusions or hallucinations.
- Frontotemporal Dementia includes several types of dementia that are caused by progressive loss of nerve cells in the frontal lobes (the area behind the forehead) or the temporal lobe (the area in the brain behind the ears). Early signs of Frontotemporal Dementia include behavioral changes, personality changes, and difficulty understanding speech. Sometimes this type of dementia is initially misdiagnosed as depression.
- Korsakoff Syndrome is a memory disorder secondary to a severe thiamine (vitamin B-1) deficiency. This type of dementia can be caused by alcohol abuse, AIDS, and some cancers. Symptoms include difficulty learning new information and remembering recent events and even biographical information. While memory issues can be severe, other thinking and social skills can remain unaffected.
Being familiar with the different dementia diagnoses will allow caregivers to better understand their loved one, what is happening, what can happen over time, and ways to support.
To better support caregivers, here are a few tips for caring for those with dementia:
- As your loved one is in a stage of decline, it is important to care for their physical and their emotional needs. Prioritize keeping them safe, healthy, and as peaceful as possible.
- Find ways to share simple things with your loved one. For example, go for walks or rides, listen to music, and look at photo albums.
- Rather than arguing with loved ones in a state of confusion, work to calm fears and redirect your loved one. For example, if a loved one insists that someone should be arriving soon for a visit, and that is not the case, know that it’s okay to tell them that the visit was postponed and then offer an alternative activity.
- Keep yourself in a balanced state. You cannot do everything, and it is important to find ways to nurture yourself and get help when you need it.
In celebration of National Alzheimer’s and National Caregivers Month, we at RMUoHP recognize all those individuals who are in the position of caring for a friend, family member, or loved one with dementia.
— Linda Spencer, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an Associate Professor and the Program Director of the Master in Science of Speech-Language Pathology program at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.
DISCLAIMER: The content provided is this article is not to be taken as official medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.