It is not just about the memory
Dementia is not a normal process of ageing.
Its prevalence in Singapore is 6% in people aged above 65 years, and is expected to increase by more than double to 45,000 in 2020 (MOH, 2010).
It is important to recognize its symptoms early, and not to simply attribute it to old age. With early intervention, successful ageing can occur, and more quality time can be spent with your loved ones.
You may notice a decline in various aspects which might include
- Poor short term memory, repetitive speech or questions
- Word-finding difficulties
- Difficulties in learning new things
- Calling friends or relatives by the wrong name
- Difficulties in carrying out a task
- Difficulties in handling money, driving, marketing etc.
Not just Alzheimer's
The most common type is Alzheimer’s Disease, where there is a gradual deterioration over time. At a more serious stage, individuals might need assistance for activities of daily living such as bathing, feeding and toileting.
Vascular dementia is another common type of dementia which is related to stroke and vascular risk factors.Other less-common types include Parkinson’s dementia, fronto-temporal dementia and Lewy Body dementia.
Elderly with depression may also present with symptoms of dementia, and other medical conditions may also mimic its symptoms. Discuss with your psychiatrist early if you or your family have noticed changes in your memory.
Behavioral & Psychological Symptoms (BPSD)
As dementia progresses, some may have false beliefs that someone has stolen their belongings. They might be restless and experience sleep wake reversal. This might be stressful for the caregivers. Do remember that the behavior is caused by organic brain disease and your loved one is not deliberately trying to be difficult, stubborn or annoying.
The way caregivers approach patient is a critical part of avoiding angry behaviors. We believe that taking care of the caregiver’s physical and mental health is as important. Caregiving can be rewarding. Although they might have forgotten who you are, but when you hold their hands, they will remember your warmth and love.
Is there treatment?
There are medications for dementia, which serves to slow down the progression and allow you to lead an independent life for as long as you deserve.
However, holistic treatment is not only about medications. Cognitive exercises and tips to enhance your memory are just as important. Other treatment modalities include reminiscence therapy and cognitive stimulating activities individualised to suit your unique interests. It is also as important for you to work with your family to resume your role at home.
Lastly, medical conditions can never be separated from conditions of the mind. We believe in a holistic approach where good control of your medical issues ie high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, is just as important to slow down the progress of dementia.
Speak to your psychiatrist about what you or your family can do together to cope with dementia.