Normal aging includes a certain amount of memory loss, but dementia is not normal aging. Dementia is a series of symptoms that is most often associated with – but definitely not limited to – memory loss. Due to one cause or another, the brain has become diseased and is abnormally dying. The process is progressive, irreversible, and fatal. Until you notice serious and more frequent memory loss, plus other symptoms, you should not worry about a little forgetfulness.
What are the other symptoms involved in Dementia?
In addition to memory, all sensory abilities will decline. One of the most impactful is loss of vision. This can include loss of both depth perception and peripheral vision. Peripheral vision can progressively decline, beginning with the loss of side vision and progressing to serious tunnel vision where the individual can see only a narrow field of vision directly ahead. This is why making decisions about driving is something to be looked at early.
This loss contributes to other behaviors associated with dementia. For example, a person who shuffles may not have a problem with their motor ability. They may be shuffling because they actually cannot see their feet or the floor below or because change in patterns and textures on the floors can not be clearly distinguished. The loss of peripheral vision contributes to paranoia. Our peripheral vision is our window to safety. We naturally feel more vulnerable when we do not know what is beside or behind us.
Hearing, olfactory sense, and motor skills will also decline. There can be real loss of hearing at the ear, but this is greatly exacerbated by cognitive decline; the loss of ability to recognize words and connect phrases. A dementia individual may actually be able to hear, but their brain cannot process the input as quickly or as logically as it arrives.
Decline in olfactory ability will contribute to problems with hygiene and personal appearance. A dementia individual will not know that they need a bath or their clothing changed.
Motor skills will decline as well, especially with the “skill fingers” – the thumb and first two fingers with which we button shirts, tie shoes, feed ourselves, use a toothbrush and perform the many daily chores that healthy people take for granted.
In short, dementia affects everything that is managed by the brain, and in its latter stages will include the commands to swallow and breathe. Indeed, it is a grim disease, and I fear that this sometimes contributes to a callous and fatalistic attitude toward appropriate care.
It need not be this way. Although there currently is no cure, there are so many things we can do to improve comfort and quality of life for individuals with dementia. Just having more of an understanding of what a person is living with on a daily basis will provide you with some empathy. In the previous blogs, I have explained some of the principles of person-centered compassionate care and the techniques of a Positive Approach to Care as it is taught at Coping with Dementia LLC.
If, through compassionate care we can protect the dementia person’s dignity and better manage behaviors, we will have a more positive experience for both parties; the caregiver and the person with dementia.
Until next time remember: “We all deserve the best”
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© Debbie Selsavage, 2016