Periodically I like to review. We have covered many topics over the past few months. I have answered lots of questions, but, I still get the question, “What is Dementia?”
Well, according to the dictionary dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. That is a mouthful! Dementia is an umbrella term. There are 85-90 different conditions of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the number one condition of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is progressive; it will get worse, it is chronic, terminal and it will result in death.
When a person is living with Alzheimer’s disease their brain is failing; their brain is shrinking. I am a visual person, so to better understand how this disease affects your brain think of a bowl of grapes, round pulp and full juice. Now, think of a bowl or raisins, dried up and wrinkled. Get the picture?
By the end of this disease one-third of the brain tissue still functions. Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain asymmetrically, generally attacking the left side first and spreading. The left side of your brain is where language and vocabulary are stored. This is why at times the person living with Alzheimer’s disease has trouble finding words. They know what they want to say, but they just cannot find the words. When caregivers understand this, though it does not make things easier, it allows you to see things from a different perspective. The right side of your brain is where automatic speech, rhythm and swear words are stored.
Your loved one may not remember a person, place or thing or the words to describe them but can remember a favorite hymn or a favorite poem. A good way to remember this is “language on the left” and “rhythm on the right”. They “lose on the left” and “retain on the right”. With this knowledge you may not be able to carry a conversation with your loved one, but you can sing a song with them or recite a poem with them or recite a favorite bible verse with them.
As a caregiver you always focus on what that can still do and not on what they can no longer do. When a person is living with Alzheimer’s disease you may notice changes every 6-12 months. Your loved one may become more impulsive and indecisive. As the disease progresses the person living with Alzheimer’s disease may become agitated when surrounded by a large group of people or a family gathering. You will notice that your loved one will have difficulty comprehending what you are saying. Remember, they are doing the best they can do!
You are the one with the good brain, be patient! Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Currently, North Carolina has over 160,000 older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Alzheimer’s is an epic disease. Our nation is so out of tune when it comes to dementias. This disease is not just reaching the elderly. Most people believe that dementia affects a person when they get old. There is a great mystery as to why Alzheimer’s disease strikes older adults. But according to Alzheimer’s North Carolina, the youngest person they have encountered with Alzheimer’s disease was age 33. Age 33 is not old!!! This disease is complex, and it affects different people in different ways. Prepare yourself, things are not going to get easier, life will get physically and mentally demanding. When a person lives with dementia, the family lives with dementia. This disease affects everybody. Build a network of support early on.
Please mark your calendar for Tuesday May 8, at 2 p.m. We will have a workshop with Audrey Marshall, a program manager with Project Care. This program helps families living with dementia with respite. This workshop will take place at Sampson County Department of Aging. Please keep yourself informed, knowledge is power and until there’s a cure there is care. You can reach me at 910-592-4653 or e-mail @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope you have a “Best Day Ever”.
Lesia Henderson is a program director for the Sampson County Department of Aging.