Dementia is a broad term that describes a set of symptoms including impaired thinking, reasoning and memory and these symptoms may interfere with an individual’s ability to function in daily life. By contrast, Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia. Therefore, using the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease synonymously is not accurate or correct.

While anyone may exhibit signs of forgetfulness, especially as we age, that does not necessary mean an individual has dementia. Some signs that an individual may be experiencing dementia, may include the asking of repetitive questions, difficulty following directions, placing objects in odd or unusual places or showing signs of confusion in familiar locations or performing daily tasks. Should your loved one start exhibiting these behaviors, it is time to see a doctor for an evaluation.

According to The Sentinel, “a diagnosis of dementia, impairments must be present two of the mental functions of memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception.”

A doctor can determine whether it is dementia or another medical condition causing the symptom. In many cases, dementia is reversible when the underlying medical condition is treated. Underlying medical conditions that may cause reversible dementias include depression, urinary tract infection, thyroid disease, nutritional deficiencies, low blood sugar or side effects of some prescription medication.

Other medical conditions may result in irreversible dementia but although there may not be any prevention or cure for some of these conditions, an early diagnosis and treatment may help slow the progression of symptoms. With prompt and proper treatment of illness such as Alzheimer’s disease, Pick’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia and certain types of head injuries, may allow the affected individuals and their families time to plan and prepare for the future changes and challenges.

Regardless of the underlying cause, some there may be some interventions that may help an individual experiencing dementia symptoms, such as managing communications and controlling their environment. Managing communications may include not trying to re-orient someone who is confused, allowing an individual with dementia to live in their own reality results in a greater likelihood of successful communication. Attempting to engage in logical reasoning with someone suffering from dementia will like only result in frustration on all sides.

It is very helpful when caregivers and family members learn to read the nonverbal cues and body language of a person with dementia it can help calm the waters. A person with dementia may be easily overwhelmed and knowing when or how to change a conversation, avoid certain topics or specific situations can help prevent triggers that could lead to extra stress.

Maintaining an environment with low glare lighting, familiar objects and photographs and low noise levels as well as keeping a structured schedule may provide a sense of comfort and could promote improved stability in the functioning and behavior of an individual with dementia.

The progression of dementia can be a heart-breaking process for everyone involved but depending upon the underlying cause, there may be medications available to try to slow the progression of symptoms or manage difficult behaviors.

For additional tips, advice and suggestion on how to assist and communicate with a person with dementia, please visit The Alzheimer’s Association website. And if the time has come when you or a family member is no longer able to live independently, please contact ElderLink to discuss the options and learn about assisted living services and facilities throughout California. Working with a professional elder care service can help alleviate some of the stress of a difficult situation by providing assistance with customized elder care services.