The Do’s and Don’ts of Dementia

Around 5.7 million Americans are currently living with dementia, and as many as 13.9 million individuals 65 years or older are projected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias in the US by 2060. Physicians can help patients reduce their chances of developing dementia and educate families how to cope with a challenging situation.

“It can be frustrating for families and caregivers because the disease makes people behave unpredictably,” says Dr. Raja Paspula, senior lead physician at Parkland’s Geriatrics and Senior Care Center, via release. “They no longer have proper judgment or impulse control so they can act inappropriately or even put themselves or others at risk of injury.”

People with dementia have problems with cognitive functioning such as the ability to think and reason, which subsequently interferes with normal activities and their relationships with others. Dementia itself is not a disease but is the general term for symptoms such as loss of problem solving abilities, loss of emotional control, personality changes, and behavioral problems.

Most dementia is the result of a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and other conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for approximately 70% of all cases.

Dementia can be devastating, but it isn’t inevitable. Age and heredity are a key risk factor that are unchangeable but up to 35% of all dementias are caused by modifiable risk factors, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Dr. Paspula says via release that, “A healthy lifestyle can significantly lower one’s risk for dementia. Smoking, hypertension, obesity, physical inactivity can all increase the odds of developing dementia. Taking care of your body is also good for your brain. If you eat a healthy diet, manage your stress and your weight, monitor your cholesterol and blood pressure, don’t smoke, and get regular exercise, you can lower your risk for many serious diseases, including dementia.”

As for families and caregivers who deal with the disease, providing help can be complicated because often the patient is not aware that they have any type of impairment.

Chiffon Kinney, RN with Parkland’s Senior Outreach Services says, “You can’t always convince your parent or loved one of the dementia symptoms you see. …In these cases, we often set up family conferences with the physician and the medical team to help the patient understand dementia and accept help from their caregiver.” She also advises families to learn about the disease in order to deal better with the frustrating aspects of caring for their loved one.

There are some dos and don’ts that Parkland experts recommend for dealing with dementia behavior:

  • Aggressive behavior: Remember your loved one’s actions aren’t intentional and might be triggered by fear or discomfort. Do identify the cause. Don’t engage in conflict.
  • Confusion about place or time: Do provide simple explanations and make them feel safe. Don’t get into long explanations or debates.
  • Poor judgment: Do assess the problem and offer help. Don’t question the individual’s capability which can make them defensive.

Other tips from Kinney and Dr. Paspula:

  • Take your loved one’s preferences into consideration
  • Avoid power struggles
  • Ask simple questions that are easy to answer
  • Communicate insistently but not aggressively
  • Evaluate your own attitude—are you making things worse?
  • Focus on positives—encourage them in what they are still able to do well
  • Listen well and pay attention to visual cues
  • Be flexible; compromise.
  • Be patient—both with yourself and with your loved one.