What is Dementia? Everyone’s getting it and no one wants to talk about it. This is what Gina Germany spoke on at SAHMA Alabama State Meeting on Wednesday, May 15th. Perhaps the easiest way to define it is simply, Brain Failure.
Dementia can basically be looked at as a big umbrella that covers various conditions like Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementias, Fronto-Temporal Lobe Dementias, etc.
What changes with Dementia? There are structural changes and chemical changes that can happen. Structural changes, which are permanent, are when the cells are actually shrinking and dying. Chemical changes, which are more variable, are when cells are producing and sending fewer chemicals through the brain.
What are the symptoms? Of course, you may know of the common symptom of short-term memory/recall loss. Other symptoms can include confusion, hallucinations, trouble with solving problems, changes in mood and personality, misplacing things, etc. All these different symptoms are dependent on the type of dementia an individual might have.
Germany mentioned that some types of dementia can be reversed if dealt with early enough. “The earlier that dementia can be diagnosed and dealt with, the easier it can be to reverse.” An example of a type of dementia that can be reversed is Vascular dementia. Germany mentioned that like some heart diseases, it can be reversed and cured with the proper precautions.
Although much of the progression of dementia is the deterioration of the brain, one thing that does stick around throughout even the later stages is the primitive brain, also known as the amygdala (located behind the frontal lobe). This is known as the “Fright, Flight, or Fight” part of the brain. Understanding that the primitive brain is still active even while other reasoning skills fade can help housing managers know how to approach their elderly residents who may be suffering from dementia.
For example, avoid suddenly approaching a resident suffering from dementia, because an all of a sudden greeting could startle them causing them to react in a “fright, flight, or fight” manner which could be harmful to themselves and even the greeter. This is important also because vision loss (particularly peripheral vision loss) is a very common symptom of most progressing dementia conditions. Even if a greeter’s intention isn’t to sneak up, they might could still accidentally do so because of the demented resident’s lack of clear vision. Therefore, a greeter must be intentional about making sure they are seen by someone suffering from dementia.
Sometimes it can be hard to realize if someone has dementia. Gina Germany included this helpful list of things to remember when engaging with people who may have dementia.
Basics for Successfully Evaluating someone with Dementia:
- Be a detective NOT a judge.
- ASK QUESTIONS.
- Look, Listen, Offer, Think…
- Use your approach as a screening tool.
- Always use this sequence for cues:
- visual – show, verbal – tell, physical – touch.