Introduction to Dementia: Stage, Causes & Treatment

Introduction to Dementia

Dementia and its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease, is a complex neurological disorder. According to the Alzheimer’s Association®, more than 5.3 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, but despite its high prevalence, very few have a full understanding of the disease until it hits close to home. At the time of diagnosis, individuals and their families may be unaware of the wide range of symptoms and how Alzheimer’s disease will impact their daily lives.

Jimmie Fay Griffin, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Tallahassee, a memory care assisted living community in Tallahassee, Florida, advises families about the importance of learning about their loved one’s dementia. “It’s so much more than just memory loss,” says Griffin. “Dementia brings with it a progression of challenging symptoms, including behavior challenges and personality changes, sleep issues and trouble thinking and speaking. Families need to be prepared to care for the wide range of cognitive disabilities their loved one will experience throughout the disease.”

The more you know about your loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease, the better care you’ll be able to provide. Alzheimer’s is in no way an easy journey for families to take, but fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you at every step of the way.

Defining Dementia

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not exactly the same. Dementia is the general term used to describe a decline in mental ability that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. The experts at the Alzheimer’s Association® define Alzheimer’s as “a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.” Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Scientists have yet to determine the precise cause of this disease, although several risk factors, such as age, genetics and head injuries have been confirmed. We know that the disease causes damage to the nerve cells in the areas of the brain responsible for performing tasks involved with memory and thinking. Currently, the biggest suspects for the cause of this damage are the build up of specific proteins both inside the brain’s nerve cells and in the spaces between them.

Dementia is a progressive disease, meaning that it gets worse as time goes on. At first, the effects of the disease may be barely noticeable, but symptoms gradually appear and worsen over a period of four to twenty years, depending on other health factors.

The Progression of Dementia’s Stages

If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with dementia, it’s important to know what to expect so you can prepare for the future. The symptoms of the disease can appear differently in each individual, however, everyone experiences the same general decline in cognitive abilities.

Experts have categorized the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s into three general stages: early-stage, mid-stage and late-stage. In the early stages, most individuals experience few symptoms and can still function normally and independently, carrying out daily tasks at home and at work despite noticing a few lapses in memory.

Mid-stage Alzheimer’s is usually the longest period of the disease, lasting up to several years. During this stage, symptoms such as memory loss and trouble communicating are noticeable to others and can make it difficult for the person to carry out familiar tasks. Common symptoms during this stage include:

  • Forgetfulness of new or familiar information, such as details about one’s own history
  • Feeling withdrawn or moody, especially in the midst of social situations or when attempting a task that is mentally challenging
  • Confusion about what day it is or where they are
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as napping frequently during the day and becoming restless in the evening and during the night
  • Increased risk of wandering away or becoming lost
  • Personality or behavioral changes, which could include inappropriate speech or behavior, suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive actions such as hand-wringing

A person is considered to be in late-stage Alzheimer’s whenever they are no longer able to respond to their environment. The damage to the brain becomes so severe that individuals can no longer carry on a conversation or, eventually, control their movements. They may still be able to speak, but coherent communication is extremely difficult. At this stage, individuals will need around-the-clock care in order to carry out daily activities such as dressing, bathing, eating and going to the bathroom. This is the point at which loved ones usually benefit from professional assistance either in their home or at a community dedicated to memory care.

Treatment Options

Unfortunately, a cure for dementia has yet to be found. However, there are several options individuals have for treating the symptoms of their memory loss. Doctors may prescribe pharmacological treatment through cognitive-enhancing medication. In addition to medication, dementia symptoms can be managed through proper daily care and holistic treatments.

Family caregivers, usually a spouse or adult child, provide the most support for people with dementia. Caregivers can utilize techniques developed by experts in memory loss to provide proper assistance with daily tasks, learn to communicate efficiently with their loved one, manage their behavior and enhance their quality of life. Caregivers are encouraged to provide holistic treatments, which support their loved one’s overall health and well-being through proven therapies. Examples include art and music therapy, sensory stimulation therapy, aromatherapy and more. Holistic therapies work well to improve mood and lesson irritation and aggression while also strengthening cognitive abilities. They also help caregivers provide meaningful activities for their loved ones. Sometimes, such activities and cognitive stimulation can even slow down the progression of dementia.

Seeking Care When It Counts

While home care is the typical choice for families of a loved one with dementia, professional, full-time care often becomes necessary as the disease progresses into the later stages. “Seeking support for a memory care assisted living community is a viable option for families once their loved one’s care needs become severe,” explains Griffin. “Professional support from a community dedicated to memory care can give loved ones and their families a better quality of life during dementia’s most difficult stages.

“In the meantime, Clarity Pointe Tallahassee is committed to offering education and support for family caregivers while they care for their loved ones at home. Our team of expertly trained dementia caregivers are always happy to share techniques and information on providing the best support for loved ones’ unique needs. We also offer regular events for caregivers to come and learn, meet other caregivers and better understand dementia in all its complex forms. Stay in touch with Clarity Pointe to take advantage of our community’s helpful resources.”

Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear

Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.

Opening in December 2017, Clarity Pointe Tallahassee is unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center. Clarity Pointe Tallahassee will offer four free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.

We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.

For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.

To learn more about the Clarity Pointe™ Difference, contact us today!