Caring for persons with dementia is challenging and can be exhausting both physically and emotionally. Learn to talk about your problems. Our Caregiver Support Centre runs support groups in English, Mandarin and Malay for caregivers looking after persons with dementia. We run various programmes and services for those living with dementia, as well as training workshops for family caregivers and domestic helpers.
The term “dementia” is used to describe a set of symptoms. Symptoms of the different forms of dementia can vary a great deal and can include memory loss, confusion, and mood and behaviour changes.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and fronto-temporal dementia. In some cases, dementia is thought to be caused by both Alzheimer’s disease and either vascular dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies. This is sometimes referred to as “mixed dementia”.
Dementia affects each person in a different way, depending upon the impact of the disease and the person’s personality before becoming ill. The signs and symptoms linked to dementia can be understood in three stages.
Mild stage: The early stage of dementia is often overlooked because the onset is gradual. Common symptoms include:
- Losing track of the time;
- Being more confused or disoriented in less familiar environments;
- Difficulties in handling complex tasks, or decreased awareness of current and recent events
Moderate stage: as dementia progresses to the moderate stage, the signs and symptoms become clearer and more restricting. These include:
- Becoming forgetful of recent events and people’s names;
- Becoming lost in familiar places;
- Having increasing difficulty with communication;
- Needing help with personal care;
- Experiencing behavioural changes that may escalate and include aggression, wandering and repeated questioning
Severe stage: This stage is one of near total dependence and inactivity. Memory disturbances are serious, and the physical signs and symptoms become more obvious, such as:
- Becoming unaware of the time and place;
- Having difficulty recognising relatives and friends;
- Having an increasing need for assisted self-care;
- Having difficulty walking;
- Forgetfulness which is significant over time, or which starts to negatively impact one’s function;
- Physical decline – inability to control bladder and bowel, having difficulty walking
- Reduced ability to speak
Most of us forget things every day, like people’s names or where we put our keys, but this is a normal part of life.
As dementia becomes more common as people get older, many of us will have a relative living with the condition – but this does not mean we will inherit it. Most of the time the genes we inherit from our parents will only have a small effect on our risk of developing dementia. In most cases, our likelihood of developing dementia will depend on our age, lifestyle, and the genes we have.
No, it can affect younger people as well (those below the age of 65) but the risk increases significantly after the age of 65.
There is currently no cure for dementia. However, medicines have been developed for Alzheimer’s Disease that can temporarily alleviate symptoms or slow down their progress in some people. Much can be, however, offered to support and improve the lives of people living with dementia and their caregivers and families. The principal goals for dementia care are:
- Early diagnosis
- Optimising physical health, cognition, activity and well-being
- Identifying and treating accompanying physical illness
- Detecting and treating behavioural and psychological symptoms
- Providing information and long-term support to caregivers
There is no sure way to prevent dementia, but we do know some of the risk factors for dementia, and these can be managed. These risk factors are the same as for cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke). By leading a healthy lifestyle and doing regular exercise you will be lowering your risk of these diseases, and it’s likely you will lower your risk of dementia too.
To improve your health:
- Keep active and exercise regularly;
- Do not smoke;
- Maintain a healthy weight;
- Eat a healthy balanced diet;
- Control high blood pressure;
- Maintain safe cholesterol levels;
- Studies suggest it may be particularly important to keep healthy in mid-life to help lower your risk of developing dementia
As you age, it is important to keep yourself active and mentally engaged. Even a slight change in otherwise routine activities can make you think in a different way. Here are some ways to challenge your mind:
- Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand;
- Close your eyes while getting dressed or performing other tasks;
- Wear earplugs to experience the world without sound;
- Turn your pictures or clocks upside down;
- Start a new hobby;
- Learn to play a musical instrument
Start by discussing your concerns with your doctor, or contact the nearest hospital.