Caring for a loved one with dementia, as they transcend from being capable and independent, to incapable and highly dependent, can be heart breaking.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for a number of symptoms that affect brain functioning. The most easily recognisable symptom of dementia is gradual and frequent memory loss, however other symptoms may also be present. These can include:
- Personality changes
- Apathy and withdrawal
- Aphasia (language disturbance)
- Difficulties in planning, organising and abstract thinking
- Apraxia (impaired movement abilities)
- Agnosia (failure to recognise objects and things)
- Depression and anxiety
There are many different types of dementia, however Alzheimer’s is the most common and accounts for between 50-70% of dementias.
Memory Loss & Dementia
Anyone can get dementia, however the risk of dementia increases with age. It is rare for someone under 65 to be diagnosed with dementia, however it does occur, and is called “younger onset dementia”.
It is important to remember that the majority of older people do not get dementia and it is NOT a normal part of aging. In Australia, only about 1% of the population suffer dementia, however 10-15% do experience mild to moderate memory loss. Mild memory loss is a normal part of aging, and separating this from dementia can be difficult.
If you believe that a friend or relative may have dementia, it is important that you consult a doctor as soon as possible, so that the person affected can undergo a medical assessment and get the help and support they need.
There are a number of conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms including vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects, infection and brain tumours, which all need to be ruled out before the person can be diagnosed with dementia.
Caring for Someone with Dementia
While professional services have much to offer, the vast majority of caring for individuals with dementia is performed by family and friends.
Caring for someone with dementia can be both physically and mentally draining (particularly as the symptoms become worse), and caregivers often report feeling frustrated, stressed, alone and unsure how to continue. Caregivers may also experience guilt, anger, sadness, a sense of loss and anxiety.
It is important to remember that none of these feelings are wrong, however they can impact on mental health and well being if experienced at extreme levels for prolonged periods. Furthermore, these feelings may develop into full-blown mental health problems if not addressed.
For instance, in a recent survey on dementia caregivers, researchers found that a high proportion (over 20%) had a depressive disorder – reminding us of the importance of caregivers paying close attention to their own health, and having a range of effective coping strategies to help lift the burden.
Talking to a mental health professional is a coping strategy, that can be particularly beneficial. Not only will the caregiver gain insight into dementia and its progression, but they will also be assisted to develop further coping strategies, and supported in making the best decisions, not only for themselves but also the person they are caring for.
Often caregivers put everything they have into caring for the person with dementia – and forget that they are important too. Caregivers frequently state they are unsure where they can access help; talking to a psychologist about the situation means that some of the fog can be cleared.
Caring for someone with dementia can seem overwhelming, but the more information and support that you have, the more you will be prepared to deal with the road ahead.
Author: Ashley Cooper, B Psych (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Ashley Cooper is a registered Clinical Psychologist, working with children, adolescents and adults. She is passionate about helping individuals to overcome their mental health issues and improve their quality of life.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Ashley Cooper try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.