Dementia is a disease in which mental abilities, such as memory and the ability to think, decrease sharply. This also leads to motor problems, disorientation, language disorders and a change in personality. Those affected can no longer carry out their daily tasks and are dependent on the help of other people.
What is dementia
According to DigoPaul, the term dementia encompasses several diseases in which the ability to think and memory are impaired. Above all, people with dementia show a marked decrease in mental abilities. Short-term memory and the sense of direction are particularly affected. But speech disorders and motor skills also decline more and more.
One form of dementia is that in Alzheimer’s dementia. This form occurs in 60 to 70 percent of all dementia cases. There is also vascular, i.e. vascular-related dementia. This form is rarer and represented at around 20 percent. There are also various mixed forms of dementia, in which Alzheimer’s dementia and vascular dementia can merge.
The disease of dementia is more and more common among older people in Germany. This is mainly due to the high life expectancy as well as the way of life of our western civilization. Only rarely are there younger people who suffer from dementia. Above all, people over the age of 80 have a much higher chance of developing dementia.
The causes of dementia can have various backgrounds. The most common dementia occurs in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. In the case of vascular dementia, a stroke or hardening of the arteries or arteriosclerosis are the main causes. In addition, infections (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), metabolic diseases (e.g. diabetes mellitus) and a lack of oxygen in the brain are mostly responsible for dementia.
There may also be a connection with Parkinson’s, depression and hereditary dementia. There are numerous theories why these types of dementia occur:
Mental agility: Passive activities (such as watching TV) over a longer period of time do not optimally stimulate the growth of new nerve cells or let them slowly die off because they are not needed. Seen in this way, active mental activities can prevent dementia. Above all, reading, learning, making music and puzzling sharpen the human mind in the long term.
Diet: An unhealthy and monotonous diet over the years is harmful to the brain. Above all, a high proportion of saturated fatty acids in meat and a high consumption of sugar have a detrimental effect in the long term. Therefore, a balanced and healthy diet with vitamins C and E makes sense. Fish with its valuable omega-3 fatty acids also have a stimulating effect on the mind and memory.
Physical activity: In addition to impoverished mental activity in life, a lack of exercise can also be responsible for dementia. The body is to be seen as a holistic “being”. It is not for nothing that it is said: “In a healthy body there is also a healthy mind.” “Fault” the body and mind slowly for years through inactivity and stimulating stimulation, illnesses shouldn’t be uncommon.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
Dementia is a disease that is progressive and involves a wide variety of symptoms. It usually begins with progressive memory loss. Those affected suffer primarily from a limitation of their short-term memory: the information recorded is no longer stored and new things can hardly be learned.
This is not necessarily to be recognized at the beginning, as a certain forgetfulness is to be regarded as normal, especially in old age. In the further course memories are lost and the person concerned forgets more and more aspects of his life. He also changes habits accordingly and appears confused when asked about the events of the past that are actually known to him.
Other cognitive qualities are also lost: word-finding disorders and orientation problems also arise. What is actually familiar is no longer recognized or classified incorrectly and changes can lead to greater confusion or anger. In the end, there is severe tiredness, apathy and the inability to recognize one’s own relatives.
In motor terms, dementia mainly affects walking. The steps are getting smaller and those affected are more insecure overall. Motor reflexes of any kind can be lost. There are also many psychological symptoms to be mentioned. In addition to apathy and irritability, irrational behavior (eating inedible or wandering around) or hallucinations and euphoria can also occur.
In either case, large changes in behavior can be observed. Signs of dementia are a gradual loss of memory and changes in personality in the person affected.
The course of dementia can have different characteristics. As a rule, the intensity of the dementia progresses slowly (over several years) and is not immediately recognizable. In addition, dementia flare-ups occur later in the course of the disease. Thereby days of relatively clear thinking and consciousness alternate with mentally cloudy days. In addition, many people with dementia suffer from severe mood swings such as hot temper and anger, as well as depression.
Dementia does not necessarily have to lead to complications. If those affected receive adequate and extensive care, the risk can be kept quite low. However, some complications result from inadequate treatment. Many people with dementia are housed in district hospitals or old people’s homes.
Due to staff shortages, treatments are sometimes very inadequate. Overworked nursing staff can lead to abuse, which can trigger further psychological problems. Inadequate physical care can also lead to sores on the skin, sometimes with severe inflammation. Dementia diseases come in many different forms and degrees of severity.
The complications are highly dependent on the cause of the disease. Complications that are generally valid for all dementia diseases are, for example, side effects from medication, failure of bodily functions, increased infection rates and, in later stages, losses in terms of the ability to interact. When the disease occurs, life expectancy also falls. Dementia diseases can also lead to falls, broken bones and muscle contractures.
Malnutrition and dehydration are also frequently observed. A not uncommon complication is violent behavior towards yourself and others. Dementia diseases are complex and lead to significant losses in the quality of life of those affected and their relatives. Due to the decisive characteristic of the disease, forgetfulness, the affected patients often put themselves in life-threatening situations.
When should you go to the doctor?
If the usual memory drops or changes, a doctor should always be consulted. If you lose your memory in everyday life, it is advisable to initiate examinations in good time. If the person concerned can remember events of the past hours or days with increasing difficulty, he needs a doctor. If the ability to read an analog clock correctly disappears, it should be fully examined.
As soon as relatives notice that existing memory gaps are being filled with made-up stories, a calm and trusting conversation should be sought with the person concerned about the changes that have been noticed. Help is needed as soon as possible in the event of disorientation or the loss of name or personal memory. The disease is then already at an advanced stage and the person affected should no longer be left alone. Medical help is also required if, in addition to memory loss, noticeable changes in behavior occur.
Aggressive behavior or a strong increase in conflicts with people in the immediate vicinity are considered worrying and should be clarified by a doctor. If the person concerned forgets to take the necessary medication or if he does not have to consume enough food and liquids a day, he needs medical help. If there is a noticeable weight loss or a changed need for sleep, further examinations should be initiated.
Treatment & Therapy
The therapy or treatment of dementia depends on its form. To this day there is no cure for dementia. Depending on the severity, attempts are therefore made in the treatment of dementia to slow down the mental decline and the physical symptoms. If dementia is detected in good time, attempts can be made at this early stage to slow down the serious consequences.
Medicines are mainly used here. In addition, good social integration in the family is beneficial in order to give those affected the feeling that they still “belong”. There is also a socio-therapeutic or psychotherapeutic treatment that offers important support in addition to drug therapy.
In addition to these measures, an examination by a neurologist is also advisable, who can provide other important information about the specific form of dementia and can thus offer the caregiver or the family answers about the disease. There are also support groups and memory clinics that can help dementia sufferers to retain their independence and mental capacity for longer.
Outlook & forecast
The course of dementia varies greatly from person to person and depends, among other things, on the type of dementia in question. In the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia, but also in most other forms of dementia, the disease progresses insidiously. Over the course of many years there is slowly an increasing loss of cognitive performance. The destruction of the nerve cells in the brain is irreversible.
The disease cannot be cured by drug treatment or psychosocial measures. Only the progression of the disease can be slowed down or even temporarily stopped. Over the years, those affected become increasingly forgetful and dependent, up to the point of complete need for care and ultimately die of the complications of their illness. Patients are no longer able to take care of themselves and are completely dependent on the help of others for things like food intake and physical hygiene.
The Alzheimer’s diagnosis itself is not the actual cause of death for the patient. Rather, being bedridden can lead to pneumonia, pulmonary embolism or other infectious diseases, from which the sick can ultimately die. Basically, the later the dementia occurs, the shorter the course of the disease.
Follow-up care for people with dementia consists of returning them to their home environment after an inpatient stay. The challenge often consists in being dependent on caring relatives, who first have to find their way into their new role. The aftercare therefore not only affects the patient but also their relatives, who must be informed and looked after in order to avoid being overwhelmed.
A day-patient stay in a clinic can be useful to make things easier, because here the sick are gradually released into everyday life. A certain degree of autonomy can be regained through therapeutic offers, depending on the stage of dementia. It is important that those affected are not overwhelmed by the therapist, as this can lead to a renewed outbreak of the disease. The needs of each individual must be carefully considered.
If the patient then goes completely into the home environment, it is also helpful here to receive regular visits to the doctor or to hire a professional nurse to provide support in the difficult initial period. Good everyday planning plays a major role so that the patient is challenged and there is no emptiness in which the disease can break out. Participation in social life, picking up on old hobbies and regular training of body and mind are just a few recommendations.
You can do that yourself
With the progression of dementia, there are increasing restrictions and problems in the everyday life of those affected. With simple self-help tips – in addition to medical care – the quality of life of those affected can be significantly improved.
Exchanging ideas with other people affected is extremely important, especially at the beginning of the course of the disease. In this way, patients can better understand their clinical picture and also set themselves apart emotionally. Adequate exercise, a healthy diet and time for yourself for personal retreat are recommended so that patients can stay in balance despite their illness. It is extremely important for those affected that they find a respectful, loving environment that has a supportive effect. An open approach to one’s own illness usually has a positive effect on those affected and on coping with their everyday lives.
In addition to the self-help tips that those affected can bring into everyday life, professional advice and support is also recommended. With various forms of therapy, such as music or occupational therapy, the person affected can free themselves from stressful behavioral problems and so calm themselves down.
The person concerned should concentrate on the promotion of existing skills in order to be able to maintain their own independence for a longer period of time. Sudden changes in the environment could have a negative impact on the person suffering from dementia and should therefore be avoided.