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“Something’s Not Right with Mary.”

“Something’s Not Right with Mary.”

Sad senior woman and nurse

Sometimes the aide is the first to know.

Dementia is a slow process, and changes can be very subtle at first. Things that have been changing very gradually over time may escape the family’s notice, and sometimes it’s just plain denial…but long-term care providers can use their outsider’s perspective and experience with multiple patients to spot the signs that everyone else has missed.

Signs like:

  • Atypical or worsening memory loss
  • Difficulty stringing tasks together
  • Changes in longstanding habits or pastimes
  • Confusion regarding faces and places
  • Increased difficulty with reading or loss of vocabulary
  • Unusual displays of temper or loss of emotional control
  • Apathy, depression or withdrawal
  • Expression of frustration, such as “I think I’m losing my mind.”

While the ordinary aging process may result in one or more of these tendencies, and everyone can be absent-minded sometimes, a cluster of such behaviors is a good reason to recommend the patient be checked by a gerontologist to confirm the diagnosis.

A full medical examination can rule out other factors such as sleep issues, drug side effects or interactions, nutritional deficiencies, or disease. Some medical conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, can cause symptoms that mimic dementia if left untreated.

5% to 7% of seniors begin exhibiting symptoms of dementia by their early 60s, with the prevalence rising as patients age. Study findings vary, but indicate that between 25% and 50% of those over 85 will show symptoms.

The home health aide or personal care aide can be an invaluable counselor to the patient’s loved ones, persuading them to get the patient examined.

This checklist from the Alzheimer Association can be printed out and brought to the appointment to help the doctor make a proper diagnosis.

While there currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, there’s a lot of promising research going on, with tantalizing links being found to gut bacteria, gum disease, and even sleep deprivation.

Well-known and controllable risk factors include:

  • Lack of exercise, both physical and mental
  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Tobacco use
  • High cholesterol
  • Social isolation
  • Poor-quality, low-stimulus institutional environments (“hospital-induced delirium”).

If you care for an elderly patient with these risk factors or symptoms, speak up—you can make things better for everyone if the problem is addressed as soon as possible.

It has been conclusively shown that intervention tactics can slow the progression of the disease, and that caregivers can be a part of the prevention process.

Bottom line: Health care workers are in a position to make a huge difference in the dementia-prone patient’s life.

Next month we’ll discuss what the health care aide can do to help their dementia-challenged patients.

Contact us today for more information.