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Coping with a Loved One’s Diagnosis of Dementia

Posted Oct 11 2010 8:04pm

For persons with dementia, receiving the initial diagnosis can be difficult. However, it is better to receive a diagnosis early on than to suffer with little understanding as to why one is experiencing such strange changes in thinking and behavior. Likewise, the sooner a diagnosis is made, the better chance one has of treating the progression of dementia, and adjusting one’s lifestyle to moderate the effects of the disease.

Early signs and symptoms
A complicated disease with a multitude of symptoms, dementia originates in the cerebral cortex of the brain, affecting one’s ability to hear, touch, see, think, perceive, and communicate. Likewise, because a general decline in mental faculty is often accepted as a part of growing old, dementia can be tough to diagnose in its early stages, and common dementia symptoms may be explained away as a normal part of life. However, the problematic memory loss and confusion caused by dementia is often the first sign of a serious problem, and usually the reason persons seek medical evaluation.

When to call the doctor
When a person with dementia begins to display outward signs of memory and cognitive impairment, and it is clear this impairment affects his or her ability to perform basic life functions, it is usually a friend or loved one who brings the person to a medical professional for help, as persons with dementia are often unable to identify a problem.

Getting the diagnosis
As dementia progresses, the person with dementia may seem like a different person to his or her loved ones, due to severe changes in mood and behavior. Moreover, if dementia has yet to be diagnosed, these mood and behavioral changes can be frustrating for loved ones to deal with and understand. It is important for loved ones to realize these changes are a result of an underlying problem, and that the person experiencing them needs support and guidance in making sense of what is happening. To that end, getting a diagnosis is an important step for persons with dementia and their loved ones, and must be achieved before the person with dementia can be helped.

Although there is no single test for dementia, when diagnosing the disease, doctors will ask a series of questions, conduct a physical, and perform a battery of diagnostic tests to check mental and physiological function in a person experiencing symptoms that may indicate dementia. Certain problems and conditions that can cause the memory loss and confusion associated with dementia must be ruled out before a dementia diagnosis can be reached. These include medication side effects, malnutrition, alcohol abuse, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, thyroid disease, and general circulatory disorders.

Dealing with the diagnosis
If a dementia diagnosis is reached, the person with dementia may experience a wealth of emotions, ranging from sadness to anger and even relief. It is important for loved ones to be supportive at this stage, as it can be very troubling for persons with dementia to realize they are losing their ability to care for themselves. At the same time, persons with dementia and their loved ones may find the diagnosis comforting, for it represents a logical explanation to the odd changes in behavior and mood. Finally, once diagnosed, persons with dementia can adjust their lifestyles to accommodate for the changes that lie ahead and make their new lives as enjoyable as possible.

Changes in living situation and routine are normally required to ensure the safety of persons living with dementia while allowing them to remain as active and independent as possible. Some may require full-time supervision; others may require only part-time care and basic modifications to their living space to ensure easy access to common household items and restricted access to items that may be dangerous to handle, due to confusion and loss of mobility and motor control.

At first, the required changes may seem drastic. However, once these changes are made and a new routine is established, persons with dementia can live life to the fullest extent possible in a safe and supportive environment. Likewise, caregivers and loved ones can rest assured knowing everything is being done to help the person in their life living with dementia.

Author: Florence Jenkins
Florence Jenkins is a freelance writer from Los Angeles with two children of her own. If you have parents suffering from dementia check out DementiaGuide.com for more information.


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