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Aging, Alzheimer’s and dementia: What you need to know

Age is nothing but a number, but with it comes changes. These changes aren’t only to our bodies, but to our minds. And just as age effects everyone’s. body differently,  the same is true of our minds. Since the effects of age are less visible and more gradual, it can sometimes be hard to recognize those effects and what to do about them.

Because it is a topic that comes up often on Facebook groups and other social media channels, we wanted to open up a dialogue about the effects of again on the mind - and specifically on dementia and Alzheimers because they are often mentioned but also sometimes misunderstood.

What is dementia?

Broadly,  dementia is a syndrome that impacts the way that our mind is able to function - our memory, ability to perform daily tasks, and communicate. It is not a specific disease, but instead describes a group of diseases that may have similar symptoms.

According to research by the World Health Organization, more than 47.5 million people around the world are living with dementia.

As a caregiver, you may start to see results of dementia in the seniors or aging parents you care for - increased forgetfulness, a difficulty in recalling names, repeated questions, and so forth.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

While dementia is a syndrome (i.e. a group of symptoms),  Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that is a type - the most common type, in fact - of dementia. It is a progressive disease that causes memory loss and decline in cognitive function - most commonly in adults over the age of 60.

There is not scientific consensus on the cause of Alzheimer’s,  the result is abnormal protein deposits that form “tangles” and plaque in the brain that inhibits connections between cells.

National Institutes of Health estimate that 5 million Americans have the disease.

What should I do about it?

While dementia and Alzheimers are frustrating for aging parents and seniors who experience them, they can also be frustrating for their caregivers. There is no single answer to the question of what to do, but it starts with: systems and mindset.

By systems we mean putting routines and processes in place that reduce the reliance on good memory. Write things down (and encourage senior parents to do the same),  put pills in clearly marked pillboxes, make a list and cross things off as complete. These things on their own are small, but all together can increase independence and coping.

By mindset we mean how you as a caregiver can think and react to dementia and Alzheimers, difficult as it may be. If you put it in context of a result of aging, you can separate the person from the symptoms and recognize that they aren’t defined by their disease. In the same way that we wouldn’t fault someone who has to use a walker for being slow on a walk, we shouldn’t fault someone with dementia for repeating the same question  or telling the same story.

There is no easy answer,  but the most simple one is love and compassion.

While preparing for that, one of the best things you can do in the meantime is to help aging parents keep their brains active and engaged, and combat the risk of loneliness and isolation.

Lejla

December 30, 2021

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