It is estimated that in the United States there are more than 5 million individuals over the age of 65 living with dementia and by the year 2060 this number is expected to reach 14 million. With the rate of individuals being diagnosed with dementia increasing each and every year, as a society we need to work on better understanding what dementia is, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of dementia and how to assist a loved one who suffers from it.
Is Dementia a Mental Illness?
Dementia is not a mental illness, but it is a degenerative disease that millions of Americans are currently living with. Over time this degenerative disease will reduce your loved one’s ability to perform simple, daily tasks and they may require around the clock supervision and care to ensure their health and safety. If you have not taken the time to plan for your loved one’s future, today is the day to begin having loving conversations with them and other family members to ensure your loved one is always safe and being cared for.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease such as asthma or diabetes. Rather, dementia is a general term for the impaired ability to think, remember or make decisions and each of these impairments can restrict everyday activities and prevent an individual from living a normal life. Even though dementia is common in adults over the age of 65, dementia is not a part of normal aging.
Dementia is brought on by damage to or the loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. The damage and loss of nerve cells can happen in many places throughout the brain and depending on the area of the brain that has been damaged, dementia can affect people differently and cause different symptoms.
It is important to recognize that even though dementia is a disorder that affects the brain and has some symptoms that are similar to mental illnesses, dementia is not a form of mental illness. Mental illness refers to a wide range of disorders that affect mood, thinking and behavior and common examples are depression, anxiety and addiction. So, even though dementia affects mental health, it is not a mental illness.
Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia symptoms can vary depending on the part of the brain that has been affected, but common signs and symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty communicating or choosing words
- Difficulty with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving
- Difficulty reasoning or problem-solving
- Difficulty handling complex tasks
- Difficulty with planning and preparing meals
- Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
- Confusion and disorientation
- Personality changes
- Inappropriate behavior
- Increased agitation
Assisting a Loved One with Dementia
In some instances there are treatable medical conditions which can cause dementia like symptoms and the sooner you meet with a doctor, the sooner the underlying cause can be determined. So, if your loved one has not been diagnosed with dementia but is exhibiting common signs and symptoms, it is important that you have your loved one observed by a doctor as soon as possible.
If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, he or she may not require much care at the moment and this is a good time for you and other family members to learn about dementia and how it will affect your loved one. It is also a good time for you and other family members to get together and talk about caring for your loved one. Even though this conversation can be hard on family members, it is important that you take the time to plan for the future.