Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dementia, disabling diseases and denial

Firstly, an explanation. Dementia occurs when the blood cannot get to brain cells. When cells are starved for nutrients, the result in a loss of function for which ever cells are affected.

There are specific signs of dementia:

Physical signs/symptoms
Behavioral signs/symptoms
  • Memory problems; forgetfulness
  • Dizziness
  • Leg or arm weakness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Moving with rapid, shuffling steps
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Slurred speech
  • Language problems
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Wandering or getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Laughing or crying inappropriately
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Problems handling money

It is important to rule out other causes of the above symptoms. Seeking medical diagnosis is important to either rule out or identify and treat issues such as:

Nutritional issues
: malnutrition, dehydration
Sleeping issues: fatigue
Polypharmacy : drug interactions or reactions, outdated drug prescriptions,
Psychological or Physiological concerns: depression, thyroid disease, metabolic disorders, brain tumour (my dad's problem), head injuries, viral or bacterial infections, Parkinson's disease

When an individual has a stroke, the signs are obvious in loss of functioning: speech, locomotion and other physical signs. This is called Vascular Dementia. Sometimes there are mini-strokes in the brain, called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which damage the cortex of the brain in areas where we process learning, memory and language. These strokes can be unnoticable but have a profound effect on an individual. This is why early identification and treatment is important.

There are those who profess to be able to rename and destigmatize this condition are in denial. For very many family members we seek to identify the problem. They consider Brain Failure, or dementia to be pejorative terms, much in the way that some seniors refuse to accept the term 'failing', or 'frail'. I believe that those who experience signs of TIAs, and their caregivers, must recognize the symptoms and begin to work at creating an environment in which the dementia patient can be loved, supported, accepted and loved.

Yes, brain gym games, keeping seniors active physically, socially and emotionally will improve their health. Once the cells are compromised, however, measures must be taken to ensure the safety of the individual and society. Many families are in denial and hope to just get through a situation. Unfortunately, things can get much worse. Once seniors with plaque, and other buildups in brain cells that do not permit the brain to carry out its functions, these cannot come back, if ever, without further treatment. It was been predicted that one third of seniors with dementia are still driving their vehicles, for example. Another blog post of mine recommends intervening - it is your responsibility to society.
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