Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Dementia: It’s Not All Bad News
Residential Living Community Engagement Manager
Porter Hills Village
Click here to watch the WZZM13 Senior Wellness Segment on this topic.
Dementia is a debilitating condition that affects one in ten people 65 years and older.
It is, even more common in people aged 85 and older. With those kinds of statistics, it can feel that dementia is inevitable. This is a common misconception and it is important to know that dementia is NOT a normal part of aging.
It is also common to confuse Alzheimer’s Disease with dementia.
Dementia is a catch-all term used to describe a set of common conditions. Alzheimer’s Disease happens to be the most frequent type of dementia. There are hundreds of other types of dementia, however. All types of dementia affect the brain and impact its ability to transmit information to the rest of the body. But, each type affects the brain in unique ways. So, if you or someone you love is diagnosed with dementia, it is important to understand which type of dementia you will be dealing with. Just as you would never settle for the overall diagnosis of cancer, further comprehensive testing should be conducted to understand the specific type of dementia and how it could impact everyday life.
You are probably at this point thinking, “Hey, you said it’s not all bad news!”
And, you are right! Dementia will impact a person’s life in a dramatic way. It is easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of the disease process. If this is the only focus, there is little left to enjoy and the person with dementia becomes vulnerable to depression and loneliness. If one is able to see what is still possible with dementia, then the person with dementia is able to retain their personhood and dignity. The person with dementia is more than just the diagnosis of dementia, they are a person first and a person with a disease second.
The brain is made up of over 100 billion neurons. At the end of life in a person with dementia, 40% of those neurons may have been lost. But, that leaves 60% of those billions of neurons remaining! It is possible to build upon the skills and memories that have been “hardwired” into those remaining neurons.
One such attribute is that well into the dementia process, a person retains a sense of curiosity.
A person with dementia is still able to learn new things, make goals and contribute to the greater group. Procedural memory remains for the majority of a person’s life, even with dementia. This type of memory is formed by repetition and consistency. You could think of it as forming new habits. For example, when a person with dementia asks what time it is, guide him/her to the clock and show the person where to find the information. Each time the question is repeated, patiently repeat the instruction.
A person with dementia should be encouraged to socialize.
It can feel like a person with dementia cannot fully enjoy a social setting. However, consider how to set up the social environment in a way that the person with dementia can fully participate. Because of the changes in the brain, a person with dementia will perceive their environment differently than before. The brain takes in all of the stimulation of an environment, like lighting, noise and movement, and has to make sense of all of this. In a healthy brain, this seems to happen automatically. In the brain of a person with dementia, there are physical changes that prevent the ability to compartmentalize the environmental stimulation. Consider choosing a quiet setting (without ambient music or televisions) and one in which each person will be sitting at the same level as the person with dementia. Choose a spot that does not have too many visual distractions, like other groups of people. For example, you could choose to situate the person with dementia so they have their back to a crowd of people, but still are able to see the people with whom they are engaging.
“Behaviors” are a common association with dementia.
All behavior is a form of communication. Because dementia can cause changes in language, reasoning and visual centers of the brain, it may become necessary for the person with dementia to express needs in a different way. It is up to the person without dementia to determine through the clues provided what that need may be. It is not inevitable that a person with dementia will become unruly or mean-spirited. With the proper supports in place, a person with dementia and their support systems can communicate and respond to, or even anticipate needs.
People with dementia will remember a friendly face, familiar songs and even how to perform tasks when given appropriate cues.
It is important to use these strengths to recognize the person and preserve the idea that this person has their own unique identity. A person with dementia may not remember the exact activity you had done together, but the feeling they got from the experience will remain for quite a long time. Try to make those feelings happy and supported feelings!
A person with dementia still has the ability to make choices.
When choices are presented in a way that the person with dementia can understand, they are capable of making decisions. Options should be presented in simple ways. For example, give a choice between two objects, using few words. Allow some time for the person with dementia to make a decision. It can take up to 90 seconds for a person with dementia to respond to simple instructions or questions. Allow for that amount of time to lapse to enable the person to make the decision on their own.
A diagnosis of dementia does not have to mean that everything a person once enjoyed has to end.
Preferences, likes and dislikes may change. As a support system for the person with dementia, we must change our perception of what the future may hold. It is possible to have a good quality of life with dementia!
Porter Hills Village in Grand Rapids Township and Meadowlark Retirement Village in Sparta provide distinct households for those with Alzheimer’s and/or related dementia. The program is designed to help each resident maintain a sense of individuality and provide supportive routines with dedicated, consistent team members.