Living with Dementia: What You Should Know
Updated: May 16
Dementia is a general term that describes different symptoms of cognitive decline, like forgetfulness, impairment of thinking and memory loss. In the United States, almost 3.7 to 5.8 million people are living with dementia. Most require a level of assistance as they attempt to navigate their daily lives, maintain relationships and participate in activities they enjoy.
Remembering to take medications and how often, avoiding physical mishaps and managing personal care are also activities that require caregiving assistance for those suffering from dementia.
Factors of dementia
Dementia is a debilitating condition resulting from degenerative neurological diseases, vascular disorders, traumatic head injuries, infections of the nervous system, long-time alcohol or drug abuse, or certain types of fluid buildup in the brain. Left untreated, dementia can lead to neurodegenerative problems such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Other possible causes of dementia include:
Studies have revealed that some dementias occur due to depression, medication interactions, thyroid abnormalities and vitamin deficiencies. It is important to note that these factors are reversible with proper care and treatment.
HIV-associated dementia occurs when the HIV virus spreads to the brain. Symptoms of HIV-associated dementia include loss of memory; difficulty thinking, concentrating and/or speaking clearly; lack of interest in activities; and gradual loss of motor skills.
Other possible risk factors of dementia are smoking, diabetes and abnormally high bad cholesterol (LDL, or low-density lipoprotein) levels.
Symptoms of dementia
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) identifies common symptoms of dementia, including:
Difficulties in communication
Misplacement of items such as a wallet or keys
Difficulties completing common tasks such as cooking a meal or making tea
Types of dementia
Dementia is divided into several types. Some of them are:
Alzheimer’s disease. In this condition, there is plaque formation between the dead brain cells due to protein abnormalities. Those with Alzheimer’s disease have fewer nerve cells in their brain tissues, and the brain size shrinks.
Parkinson’s disease. This disease occurs because of the formation of Lewy bodies (abnormal structures) in the brain. Although Parkinson’s is a movement disorder, it also includes symptoms of dementia.
Mixed dementia. When two or more types of dementia are diagnosed in a person, the condition is called mixed dementia. For example, when a person simultaneously shows symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia (as the result of a stroke), this person is a victim of mixed dementia.
Management of dementia
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, there are two basic interventions to help people with dementia: collaborative care models and Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health (REACH) II.
Collaborative care models include both psychosocial and medical support of the dementia patient. Research has concluded that collaborative care models effectively reduce the symptoms of dementia and improve the quality of life.
REACH focuses on supporting family caregivers, and is a structured multicomponent caregiver intervention that has been successfully adapted to use in the community. It has been effectively adadapted for use with family caregivers of persons with acquired physical disabilities such as spinal cord injuries.
Other quality-of-life care practices
The ultimate objective is to provide the best-possible quality of life for one who is suffering the effects of dementia. To do this, it is important to ensure that the patient is living comfortably with as little pain, distress and confusion as possible.
Some the ways successfully provide such care:
Provide steady routines that keep patients physically active as appropriate, including the opportunity to socialize with others.
Provide a stable and safe environment; minimize changes.
Provide “clean” surroundings for your patient; not just sanitary, but also well-organized and free of clutter.
Respect your patient. Respect and compassion go hand in hand and important to a patient’s comfort and well-being.
A recent study has found that brain training, or brain exercises, is also effective in improving dementia symptoms and cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s patients. This includes the use of mnemonics (imagery and visualization, acronyms and acrostics, rhymes and “chunking” – breaking up larger blocks of information into smaller, easy-to-remember chunks; think telephone numbers!) and computerized recall devices.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports the elderly population (those aged 65 years or older) in the U.S. is expected to double from approximately 35 million today to more than 70 million by 2030. With this rapid growth in the number of older Americans, prevention and treatment of chronic diseases of aging will take on growing importance. Dementia is a disease of particular concern because the decline in memory and other cognitive functions that characterizes this condition also leads to a loss of independent function that has a wide-ranging impact on individuals, families and healthcare systems.
As research into the disease continues, the Alzheimer’s Association says we are in a time of “unprecedented promise” in the quest to defeat dementia. There is progress in the fight against the debilitating condition. Blood tests are being developed to advance early detection of dementia; new gene therapy initiatives are in the works to “fix” inherited gene mutations; lifestyle choices are being studied and advances are being made.
For those of us in the caregiving industry, our responsibility is not only to support such research and familiarize ourselves with the findings, but to be the accessible, knowledgeable frontline resource providing professional care and comfort to our patients, their families and loved ones. At Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living centers, we place a priority on providing an environment that is clean, safe, comfortable and respectful as we do our part to serve those who have chosen to live with us in their later years.
The material presented on this blog does not constitute medical advice. We encourage you to consult your primary care physician. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice. If you or your loved one is considering the benefits of quality assisted living, please contact us at 602-670-9326, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Authors
Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.
Dr. Zambakari is the owner and operator of Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix and Apollo Assisted Living in Glendale. He provides experienced direction and oversight to ensure the care facilities provide the highest levels of customized care, administered by respectful licensed medical and caregiving professionals.
Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC
Nathalia Zambakari is a board-certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a licensed medical professional responsible for short-term care patients suffering from severe conditions. As part of the Desert Haven/Apollo care team, she reviews the medical records of incoming residents, helping the professional staff to manage patient regimens, and performs caregiver education to ensure the best care possible for the communities’ residents.
1. The National Academies of Science Engineering Medicine (23 February, 2021). Meeting the Urgent Needs of People Living with Dementia Requires Addressing Existing Disparities in Care, and Ensuring Future Research Prioritizes Inclusivity and Real-World Studies
2. What is dementia? https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia
3. Dementia overview. (2014, April) https://familydoctor.org/condition/dementia/
4. Schulz, R., Burgio, L., Burns, R., Eisdorfer, C., Gallagher-Thompson, D., Gitlin, L.N. and Mahoney, D.F., 2003. Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer's Caregiver Health (REACH): overview, site-specific outcomes, and future directions. The Gerontologist, 43(4), pp.514-520.
5. Heintz, H., Monette, P., Epstein-Lubow, G., Smith, L., Rowlett, S. and Forester, B.P., 2020. Emerging collaborative care models for dementia care in the primary care setting: a narrative review. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 28(3), pp.320-330.
6. Research promise. https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/advances-alzheimers-disease-related-dementias-research