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Caring for those with Dementia and understanding Alzheimer's disease

Dementia effects many parts of the body and can have a dramatic effect on a persons ability to communicate if their dementia gets worse. Dementia is the name given to a set of symptoms that are related to a slow decrease in the brains ability to function to its maximum level. Cognitive skills such as problem solving, communication and memory can all be impacted by dementia. The decline in communication skills can be a very frustrating and upsetting time for both the sufferer and their family and can have a profound effect on their social life due to the amount of effort needed to get their point across becoming too high. Not only this but it can also require more time to take in information and think of a reply, adding to the frustration. All of this can also have a negative effect on their mental health and can really make life hard.

Below we have a few tips on how to make communication easier and for both parties:


Have patience:

If you try to rush a response or are showing physical signs that you are getting frustrated with the time it's taking to get a response, it can actually make it more difficult to get a clear response. Taking time with conversations allows you and them to read facial expressions and hand gestures. Try to maintain eye contact throughout the conversation and respond in a positive manner, this can make conversation flow easier. Using picture cards can also be helpful if they are able to see and point to them.


Consider other health issues they may be dealing with:

In many cases they may also be struggling with other health problems such as hearing loss which can make communication even harder. If this is the case then try to remove as much background noise as possible and make sure you speak clearly. Due to the fact that it will take them a few moments to process what you are saying to them, try speaking a little slower but still maintain a natural flow of speech. If their hearing continues to get worse then going to a doctors and finding out if a hearing aid could help should be the next step. If this is the right course of action for them then try to help them maintain the hearing age and accompany them to appointments so in the event they forget about the appointment/ how to get there, you are able to help.


Learn different ways for communicating:

As speech and size of vocabulary declines, the need to understand our loved ones through other forms of communications becomes even more important. They may lose the ability to say a certain word (hungry, for example) and so if they can still speak, may elude to the fact they are hungry or give you a visual cue (rubbing their stomach, for hunger). Being able to understand them without solely relying on the words they're saying is very important in this later stage of dementia.


Be supportive:

Letting them know that even though they're struggling to communicate with you, you being there for them can be a great comfort, especially if they are living alone. Helping them out with other daily tasks can also help but try to offer in a non patronising or challenging way. If they are being stubborn and are not willing to change their stance on something (eg. not wearing a coat when its raining) try to convince/reason with them to take it opposed to getting aggressive or correcting them. If it is becoming too much, take a few moments to calm down and think of a new approach, it is likely that you will notice a pattern and eventually will be able to tell which techniques work best.


Alzheimer's Disease:

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia and in the UK, is the most common. Alzheimer's disease causes nerve cells in the brain to become blocked due to a build up of proteins, over time these nerve cells die and then the brain tissue is lost.

Due to Alzheimer's being a progressive condition, it can take years for all the symptoms to become apparent and can become increasingly worse. Minor memory issues, such as forgetting a recent conversation, tend to be an early sign that someone may be developing Alzheimer's.
Over time, the memory issues often get worse and other symptoms can emerge. Getting lost and confused in familiar places, having problems with decision making/speech and issues regarding mobility can arise. A big change can be them having shift in personality, this one can also be especially upsetting for family members as it will really show the impact the disease is having on their loved one, especially if the change is a drastic one. Becoming slightly deluded can also occur and again will severely impact their ability to live a calm, stress free life as they may become anxious and non-trusting of others around them and their belongings.


Alzheimer's disease most basic breakdown is early stage, moderate stage and late stage.
During the early stage, a high quality of life can still be maintained, gentle reminders may need to be given and additional assistance may be required for intensive tasks however most people will be able to communicate with little to no problem. It is also at this point when planning for the future should take place as when the symptoms get worse it can become much more difficult for these decisions to be made.
Once symptoms have progressed to the moderate phase then the severity of memory impairment increases as well as greater mood swings, confusion and changes in sleeping patterns can occur. They will require assistance making daily decisions and will now struggle to make serious financial decisions. During late stage Alzheimer's, 24/7 care may now be required to help with personal care and other daily activities. The body may begin to struggle with what used to be automatic tasks such as swallowing or talking and will have increased difficulty fighting off infections.

Can you avoid/lower your chances of getting Alzheimer's disease?

There are some things that cannot be done when it comes to managing the risk factors of developing Alzheimer's. Age is the main risk factor associated with Alzheimer's, as it tends to be over 65's who are effected by it. Once someone turns 65, their chances of developing Alzheimer's double every 5 years.

There are a few things you can change to your lifestyle that if implemented from 40 years old onwards can help lower the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease. The changes are simple and common changes to start living a more healthy lifestyle. Regularly exercising to help maintain a healthy weight and increase muscle mass is recommended as is sticking to a balanced diet and cutting out any bad habits such as drinking in excess or smoking.

Staying physically active, regularly engaging the brain and having regular social interactions with friends and family can all help in reducing the risk of developing dementia.



 

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