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Dementia is Not a Normal Part of Aging

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Dementia is “the impaired ability to think, remember, or make decisions that interfere with doing everyday activities'' (CDC). This is the umbrella term for the common types of dementia like: Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Fronto-temporal dementia, and mixed dementia. With 10 million new cases of dementia worldwide (World Health Organization, WHO, 2020), dementia is not a normal part of aging and caused by a “variety of diseases” or injuries that can affect the brain.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and affects over 6 million older adults in the United States (U.S.). This number will likely double by 2050. Damages to brain tissue that causes neurological disorders can affect language, movement, and memories. Loss of recent memory and events are seen in early stages of the disease and the inability to recall older or long-lasting memories are evident in later stages.

Vascular dementia is linked to stroke or other issues with blood flow to the brain. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol are at risk for more strokes or mini strokes (Transient Ischemic Attack or T.I.A.) that can lead to Vascular dementia.

Lewy Body Dementia is the cognitive decline in brain function that can affect balance and movement including stiffness and trembling. Changes in alertness and daytime sleepiness and difficulty sleeping at night with visual hallucinations are the more common dementia-like symptoms.

Fronto-temporal dementia - is when we see changes in personality and behavior and can be embarrassing for people who may come off as offensive and have difficulty with language skills, speaking, and understanding.

Mixed dementia is when there may be more than one type of dementia and mostly among older people 80+ years. Sometimes a combination of Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body dementia symptoms overlap and one kind of dementia is more evident than the other.

In some cases dementia can be reversible due to underlying causes like medication, pressure on the brain, chemical and hormone imbalance, and urinary tract infections (for women). It is important that a thorough screening by health care professionals first explore the reversal of early dementia-like symptoms and family members advocate on behalf of loved ones.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and leading a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, healthy nutrition, good sleep, and keeping in contact with your social circle can decrease your chance of having a chronic disease and/or dementia.

The Alzheimer's Association has projected more than a trillion dollars for the care of dementia patients by 2050. The mental, financial, and physical burden placed on families has led to national advocacy and research to find a cure for the disease.

More often language or verbal skills become non-existent over time. I have learned to “listen from the heart” and be present in the moment when spending time with older adults with dementia. Music therapy, dancing, walking, and singing together has always relieved the stress of care.

Exercise, music, Art, Crafts, games, and trivia provide some structure and when I take the time to listen with my heart, I create a stillness that allows me to have more empathy and compassion. It is the “little moments” that matter and over time we learn to appreciate the “snatches” of connectedness or the difference we make in the lives of those entrusted to our care.

For more information and resources on dementia care, support groups, and training contact the local Alzheimer’s Association, Senior day care providers, and local area agency on aging (AoA).

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