What is dementia?
Dementia is not a disease. The Alzheimer’s Society describes dementia as “a set of symptoms which include loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning.” There are various types of dementia. The two commonest types, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, are Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia.
What is the difference between ‘dementia’ and ‘senility’ or ‘senile dementia’?
Senility, or senile dementia, is a 19th century medical misconception. Even when German psychiatrist Dr Alois Alzheimer discovered Alzheimer’s Disease in 1901, Alzheimer’s Disease was considered separate from “senile dementia”, which was viewed as an inevitable part of ageing. It was only in 1976 that Dr Robert Katzman suggested a link between Alzheimer’s Disease and senile dementia.
It is dangerous to perceive dementia as part of normal ageing; millions of people with dementia are undiagnosed because of this misconception. Dementia is not part of normal ageing.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists do not yet understand the causes of Alzheimer’s Disease, the commonest type of dementia, despite long-running research. They think that abnormal protein structures, called “plague and tangles”, could be responsible for premature nerve cell death.
What is vascular dementia?
Vascular dementia occurs when blood flow to the brain is diminished, starving cells of oxygen and nutrients. It is usually caused by a major stroke or a series of small strokes. For this reason, vascular dementia is considered to be the most preventable because it is closely linked to the health of heart and blood vessels.
What are the signs of dementia?
The Alzheimer’s Association publishes a list of 10 signs indicative of dementia:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with communication
- Misplacing things
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
How can I prevent dementia? Can it be treated?
Once dementia develops, it cannot be treated, delayed or cured. However, there is some evidence that dementia risk, particularly for vascular dementia, can be lowered with physical activity. A doctor will also be able to prescribe medications that may alleviate some symptoms, like memory loss, sleep problems, and mood fluctuations.
My doctor told me that I have some form of dementia. What should I do now?
- Speak to your doctor about your medical options and discuss them with your family
- Work at keeping your emotional health strong. Take time out to say I Love You, Thank You, I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me. If not released, emotional baggage may manifest when cognitive function decline.
- Discuss palliative care and end-of-life issues with your loved ones, even the difficult ones that have to do with nursing homes, hospices, and feeding tubes.
- Consider your legal options. In Singapore, you may make an Advance Medical Directive (or living will) that specifies the extent of life-sustaining treatment you want when you cannot give informed consent. You can also make a Lasting Power of Attorney (also known as durable powers of attorney elsewhere) and appoint trusted people to handle your health and financial affairs when you no longer can.
How do I care for someone with dementia?
Methods of caring varies from one individual to another because dementia affects different people differently; a person with dementia might exhibit aggression whereas another person with dementia may not. Various approaches, such as SPECAL care and person-centred care, recommend:
- Not expecting the person with dementia to remember
- Trying to look through the eyes of a person with dementia
- Not contradicting the perceived reality of a person with dementia
- Creating daily routines
- Encourage social contact
- Maintaining the person’s confidence through verbal affirmation
What should I do if my loved one who has dementia is prone to wandering?
If you’re in Singapore, consider applying for the Safe Return Card (also known as the DDR ID Card) to serve as a means of identification in the event your loved one is lost. The Safe Return Card can be applied through the Alzheimer’s Disease Association for free. Read the National Council of Social Service’s FAQ to learn more.
If you have other questions about dementia, email [email protected].