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Understanding Dementia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Understanding Dementia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Dementia is a degenerative brain disorder that affects millions of people in America. As dementia progresses, specialized care is often required to ensure well-being and safety. Receiving a dementia diagnosis can be overwhelming and emotional for an individual and their loved ones. Still, by understanding dementia’s causes and symptoms, you can make a more informed decision about future treatment options.

At Solterra Senior Living, we know it can be challenging to deal with a diagnosis of dementia or to see a loved one impacted by cognitive challenges. In this article, we will explore what dementia is, what causes it, symptoms to look out for, and how it can be treated.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term for conditions that impact memory, cognitive skills, and physical functioning. As dementia progresses, these skills continue to decline, interfering with an individual’s daily life. People with early dementia may be able to function independently, but over time, an individual may require more assistance with daily tasks.

It’s important to understand that dementia is not a disease in itself but rather a collection of symptoms that various diseases and conditions can cause. You must work with healthcare professionals to receive an accurate diagnosis. While various dementia conditions can have similar symptoms, the diagnosis will impact how the dementia is treated.

What Causes Dementia?

In most cases, dementia results from changes in the brain that cause neurons to stop connecting correctly.  For instance, Alzheimer’s disease (a type of dementia)  is caused by abnormal buildups of proteins around the brain, which disrupt neuron connections. Alzheimer’s disease makes up 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases and impacts over six million Americans.

Dementia can also be caused by:

  • Damaged blood vessels in the brain
  • Nerve damage in the brain
  • The progression of certain diseases and disorders, like Huntington’s disease and HIV
  • Head injury or traumatic brain injury
  • A history of heavy alcohol use

Vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects, and thyroid problems can also lead to memory loss. In these cases, some symptoms may be reversible through changing medication or diet.

Signs and Symptoms

About one-third of people 85 and older have some type of dementia, so recognizing the early signs of dementia can be critical, especially as you and your loved ones age. Starting a treatment plan as soon as possible can help people with dementia manage their symptoms, improve their quality of life, and plan for the future.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Memory loss, especially short-term memory loss (such as forgetting recent conversations or recently-learned information)
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repeating questions
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts or finding words
  • Challenges in planning and organizing
  • Changes in mood or personality, such as acting impulsively or losing interest in people and activities

Memory loss in itself does not necessarily mean that someone has dementia. Most people experience occasional memory lapses, especially as they grow older. However, if your loved one has been experiencing memory loss more frequently than usual or you’ve noticed other symptoms, it’s time to consult with a healthcare professional.

Treatment Options

Making an informed decision is crucial, especially in the early stages of dementia. Discuss treatment and care options with healthcare professionals, and do your research. While there is no cure for dementia currently, active, early treatment can help improve quality of life.

  • Lifestyle: Research suggests that staying healthy can keep brain function from declining. Eating a healthy diet, socializing regularly, exercising, and keeping mentally active can all reduce the risk of dementia. It can also slow down symptoms in people who have been diagnosed. 
  • Medications: Several medications have been found to improve symptoms or to slow mental declines in those with early-stage dementia. A doctor may recommend medication options. You may also be able to participate in clinical trials for new medications or therapies.
  • Therapies: Occupational therapists can teach skills to improve coordination and help prevent accidents like falling. Other therapies, such as music and pet therapies, can help promote memory skills, relaxation, and a good mood.
  • Supportive Care: If you’re the primary caretaker of a loved one with dementia, you have a lot of decisions to make about care. Can your loved one continue to live independently, or will they need to move?

Some people plan on caring for a loved one with dementia at home. While this may save money, consider the time and energy commitment involved in this decision. Caregiving can become a full-time job as dementia progresses. You’ll also need to consider whether your home is safe for someone with dementia. Many homes need to be modified to ensure accessibility.

Senior living communities take the stress of daily caregiving away from family members. No matter what level of care is required, residents at every Solterra Senior Living community will receive outstanding medical care tailored to their needs by professional caregivers. 

Assisted living communities encourage independence while providing customized care and a supportive social atmosphere. Memory care communities offer specialized medical care through caregivers who are trained to understand the challenges that dementia patients face. Our communities offer a welcoming, social environment and activities and events that engage problem-solving and memory skills.

Planning Ahead

It can be emotionally challenging to think about the future, especially when talking about dementia. While it may be tempting to avoid having those difficult conversations, we encourage you to start discussions early. Involve your loved one so they can have their thoughts and opinions heard. Openly discussing treatment and care options can put everyone at ease.

Dementia can be confusing and overwhelming for the person diagnosed, as well as for friends and family. By educating yourself and getting a better understanding of dementia, you can help make the best treatment decisions possible. If you would like to learn more about Solterra’s memory care communities and services, reach out to us today. We would be happy to help you explore care and treatment options for your loved one.