For caregivers: how to recognize the early symptoms. Part 1 of 3.
Posted July 2, 2012
The first of the three stages of dementia may present with memory problems which the individual is able to hide. Other signs of dementia may exhibit as depression, lack of interest, or in some individuals lack of initiative (the inability to carry out plans). Still others may begin to have some personality changes and begin to have difficulty with expressing emotions.
Being aware of the early signs of dementia and seeking early treatment may prolong the early stage of this disease. At the present time, there is no cure for the progressive dementias, such as Alzheimer’s. The present treatment for this disease is medication, nutrition and behavioral approaches.
Medications will assist with some of the irritability, anxiety and restlessness that many individuals with dementia experience. The most successful approach to providing care for the individual is through interpersonal communication. This is not an easy task, as by the time the diagnosis of dementia is given, the brain has already begun to deteriorate.
Communication is difficult not only for the caregivers, but for the individual with this diagnosis. They will be having difficulty remembering any information. They have little to no ability to store any new information, and minimal ability to quickly retrieve and respond to a situation in a timely fashion. This can cause frustration, restlessness, an increase in anxiety and anger. Negative and unwanted behaviors, often displayed by the individual with dementia, are out of anger, frustration and restlessness. There is still an awareness of their inabilities to communicate and understand everything.
This awareness causes frustration and confusion and often results in “acting out” behaviors.
There are several steps that should be implemented, both by the person with this new diagnosis and by family caregivers. Research now shows that brain fitness and physical fitness promote new connections to form in the brain. So a brisk walk, daily, and utilizing a brain fitness program or even playing card games will be vital to promoting and maintaining well-being. These activities can decrease the risk for insomnia, anxiety, depression and negative behaviors.
Good nutrition, such as a heart-healthy diet is important. High in dark green leafy vegetables, fish, whole grains and fruit, this is also a brain-healthy diet!
Sensory impairment increases the chances of negative behaviors and feelings of depression. It is important to allow an individual time to see, hear, taste and touch. It is important that they have proper fitting teeth, hearing aids in and working, or eyeglasses to see with.
Patience and compassion are the keys to creating positive emotions in an individual suffering from dementia. It is important for the caregiver to focus on what the individual can do at this given moment versus what they are no longer able to do. Once a function is lost, it will not come back. As difficult as it is, you should never say “no.” You cannot change the behaviors of the individual but you can alter their response. It is very important as a caregiver not to create an adversarial relationship with the individual for whom you are providing care. The goal of every interaction is to try and create a positive emotional response.
This approach takes a great deal of personal growth on the part of the caregiver. Your goal is to try to understand what the behaviors are trying to tell you. Every behavior is a form of communication. If you realize that the individual is getting upset or frustrated, try and figure out what is causing this frustration. Try taking a positive approach and suggesting another activity. Another approach is to ask questions about the topic they are focusing on. You can divert or distract them into another activity and help to give them a positive feeling instead of anger and frustration.
Being aware of the early signs of dementia is vital to an early diagnosis and treatment. Taking a proactive approach to learning as much as you can about the type of dementia will assist the family caregivers to prepare for future care needs. Learning the tools to focus on the individual’s strengths, will promote a better quality of life.
Diane Carbo, RN has over 35 years’ experience in a variety of nursing settings, including orthopedics/rehabilitation nursing, home care, discharge planning, case management, oncology, hospice, senior behavior health, assisted living, and long term care. Her passion is to help people plan for long-term care needs, and to that end started AgingHomeHealthCare.com. Her goal is to assist aging seniors and their families to develop plans that allow individuals to remain home, safely and comfortably, in the least restrictive environment, regardless of age, income or ability level.