Dementia isn’t a singular noun. Part 1: What dementia is not

dementia 1 fall 2021aAs of 2019, an estimated 57.4 million people worldwide were living with dementia. With population growth and aging, that figure is projected to almost triple, to 152.8 million, by 2050.

So it makes sense to know more about what dementia is – and what it isn’t.

The first thing dementia isn’t, is an “it,” singular. Dementia is a “them” – one name for a whole collection of different cognitive conditions – with different causes, different symptoms, different stages, and different treatments.

The second thing dementia isn’t, is one of several conditions that mimic dementia symptoms, but that medication can reverse and completely cure: pernicious anemia, hormonal imbalances such as hyper- and hypothyroidism, severe depression, and brain infections like encephalitis or meningitis.

And the third thing dementia isn’t, is a part of normal aging.

Many dementia symptoms can look like the results of natural aging. So particularly if you’re a caregiver, it’s important to know the differences. As most people move into their 50s, they start gradually losing memory and attention span, along with other cognitive changes. They can have slower reaction times and recall speeds and take longer to learn and solve problems. So can dementia patients. But there are important differences in the nature and degree of those changes and how fast or how gradually they progress. Mental decline from natural aging is s-l-o-w, while with dementia it’s rapid, sudden and severe.

Memory– People with regular aging-related memory loss will remember when and where they’ve forgotten things, and what it was that they forgot – and complain about increasing absent-mindedness. Being unable to remember people and faces, recent conversations and events – or even the fact of having forgotten – can be a sign of dementia. So can asking the same questions over and over.

Talking – Forgetting a word every now and then is not a sign of dementia. Pausing frequently in speech, having a hard time following conversations, or tending to call things by the wrong name can be.

Orientation – Normal mental aging can make it harder to follow directions or remember how to get somewhere. Dementia can make a person get lost in familiar locations, forget the way home and get confused about the date or time of day.

Coordination – Aging itself doesn’t cause walking difficulties, trembling, or shaking. Dementia can.

Psychological Changes – Again, normal aging doesn’t change personalities or behaviors. Dementia can, in many ways: frequent mood swings, heightened sensitivity to change, greater anxiety and agitation, loss of social skills and interest in socializing, irrational money judgment, neglecting personal hygiene and nutrition, blurting out rude or sexual comments, and, in the later stages, hallucinations and paranoia.

As you can see, aging in general and dementia in particular affect different people in different ways – too many different ways for a one-size-fits-all menu of standardized services to accommodate.

At Senior Insights, we strive to do better than that for our clients. Much better. We recognize that like people of ages, seniors are individuals, with their own personal needs, wants, and outlooks. So we start with a thorough three-part needs assessment, in which we discuss everything – from physical, psychological and mental status to mobility issues and nutritional needs and legal wishes – with clients, their caregivers and their families. Then, and only then, do we custom-design a holistic, coordinated care plan based on what we’ve learned.

Whether for dementia or regular aging, please contact us to see the difference our approach can make.

Next: Part 2 – Types of Dementia