November 16, 2015

What is Dementia?

By Daria Rabkin, Memory Care Director, Peabody Campus
What is dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a general term for a progressive disease of the brain that is associated with a range of symptoms, such as: decline in memory; decline in communication and thinking skills; poor judgment; and decreased safety awareness and ability to plan. These have to be severe enough to interfere with daily life and everyday tasks. There are many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is only one of those types. Each dementia is characterized by a different group of symptoms. This variation in symptoms is what allows medical professionals to diagnose the individual with a specific type of dementia. The number of people with dementia in the United States and the world is going to triple by the year 2050!
Current research is focused on preventing dementia and its symptoms. Researchers believe that the process of dementia may begin up to 20 years before any symptoms are noticed in the individual. Once the symptoms are present, they, unfortunately, cannot be reversed. As caregivers and medical professionals, we can do our best to prevent symptom progression in our patients, residents and clients by using certain medications and engaging them in activities and familiar daily routines. However, because dementia is a progressive disease, we know that the brain will continue to deteriorate, the symptoms will eventually worsen, and the individual’s functional and cognitive status will decline.
Allowing an individual with any type of dementia to do as much as they can of any activity is one of the best things a caregiver can do. This is what we call ‘Habilitation’. Instead of focusing on deficits and limitations, habilitation focuses on the strengths and abilities of the individuals, and encourages them to use these abilities as much as possible and for as long as possible. By allowing the individual with dementia to engage in the activities that they still know how to do, and not asking them to perform activities that are too challenging, we are promoting a positive emotion within that individual. If the person feels a positive emotion throughout the day, then their quality of life will also be more positive. Since there is currently no cure for dementia, allowing our residents to have the best quality of life is the best gift that we can offer!