Looking at Dementia in Seniors
Those of a certain age remember David Cassidy as the heart throb teen star of “The Partridge Family,” a weekly television show about a widowed mother and her children who become pop musicians. But Cassidy was in the news last week for a very different reason: the 66-year old actor and musician revealed he is battling dementia.
He announced the medical issue after he forgot the lyrics to songs he was performing at a concert. When
gossip columns suggested Cassidy, who had also battled alcoholism, had fallen off the wagon, he revealed that he has dementia. He told reporters that dementia runs in his family: both his grandfather and his mother battled the disease.
After his mother began to decline, Cassidy became a spokesman for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America and the Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation. He travels and tells his mother’s story. In an interview with agingcare.com, he said he wants to raise awareness about the disease, but to also acknowledge people “who take care of parents with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, and the daily struggle of watching a parent's decline.”
What is dementia?
The Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as “a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.” Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but dementia covers a wide range of symptoms that signal a decline in memory or other thinking skills. It’s important to remember that while memory loss is a symptom of dementia, many other things can contribute, so memory loss on its own does not mean you or a loved one has dementia. Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging; dementia is not.
There are several types of dementia including:
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies
- Parkinson’s disease dementia
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob dementia
Some people may have mixed dementia, a combination of two or more disorders, at least one of which is dementia, for instance, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Memory – unable to remember things.
- Communication and language – losing train of thought easily.
- Ability to focus and pay attention – having difficulty following directions or instructions.
- Reasoning and judgment – making decisions that put them at risk.
- Visual perception - having hallucinations.
In addition, you may observe behavioral changes in someone with dementia, such as:
- Inappropriate behavior
If you observe any of these symptoms, see a doctor. It could be there’s a cause for the symptoms other than dementia, including alcohol misuse, medication side effects, stroke, or other medical causes.
Download a Doctor’s Appointment Checklist from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Age, family history, Down syndrome, and mild cognitive impairment all put people at risk for dementia. These are things you can’t change. But there are a few areas where you can make changes to reduce your risk of developing dementia, according to The Mayo Clinic:
- Heavy alcohol use. Moderate amounts of alcohol might have a protective effect, but consuming large amounts of alcohol can put you at risk.
- Cardiovascular risk factors. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, fats in your artery walls, and obesity can add to risk. Eat healthy food and exercise
- Late-life depression might increase the risk of dementia.
- Poorly controlled diabetes may increase the risk of dementia.
- Smoking can be a factor in the development of dementia.
- Sleep apnea. People who stop breathing while asleep may have reversible memory loss.
Treatment of dementia generally focuses on managing the symptoms and keeping the patient comfortable and as independent as possible. Drugs used to treat dementia include donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine, which are known as cholinesterase inhibitors, and Memantine.
No-pharmaceutical treatments may include occupational therapy, environment modifications, music therapy, pet therapy, art therapy and more.
Families and caregivers
Caring for an elderly loved one with dementia can be overwhelming and frustrating at times. Caregivers may neglect their own health and well-being and suffer from anxiety, depression and anger. It’s important to take care of yourself: eat right, get sleep, and exercise. If you experience symptoms of caregiver stress, talk to your doctor. Find understanding friends or family, or an area support group, and look into respite care to give yourself a break.
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