Over 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is believed to contribute to 60-80% of these cases. In the United States, an estimated 6.2 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the alarming statistics, there is still much confusion surrounding dementia. So what is it?
Dementia is not a disease, but a syndrome that results from an acquired brain disease. It is characterized by deterioration in memory, language, problem-solving, and thinking abilities that are so severe they interfere with daily life. Symptoms of dementia progress over time, and it is one of the main causes of disability and dependency among older adults across the globe. While dementia mainly affects older individuals, it is not a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. It is the most common cause of dementia. Other diseases that may lead to dementia include Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, vascular disease/stroke, traumatic brain injury, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, HIV, and long-term alcohol or drug use.
Early signs of dementia vary depending on the underlying cause, but signs and symptoms may include forgetting where items were placed, repeating a question over and over, word-finding difficulties, getting lost, difficulty with complex but routine tasks such as paying bills or preparing a meal, and confusion. Personality changes may also accompany dementia, including agitation, paranoia, depression, mood swings, and anxiety. In the early stages of dementia, denial is often present as the sufferer exhibits reduced abilities in demanding settings.
Doctors diagnose dementia and may prescribe pharmaceuticals to address symptoms. Speech-language pathologists are part of the dementia team. We are often involved in diagnosis by completing cognitive testing and determining the severity level of the cognitive decline.
Speech-language pathologists provide treatment, training, and counseling to individuals with dementia and their families. Treatment may be restorative and include training the person with dementia to improve an impaired function (I.e. using a telephone or a microwave) through training. Treatments may also include training individuals in compensatory techniques (I.e. keeping a memory journal, learning to use alarms to remember to take meds) or training family/caregivers in adaptive techniques (I.e. establishing a daily routine, setting up and simplifying common tasks such as brushing teeth). In all treatment approaches, strengths should be capitalized and activities/contexts should be modified to allow the person with dementia to keep their dignity and maintain an optimal quality of life.
As part of our commitment to overall wellness for our patients, Speech Care at Home’s quality of life improvements extend past just dementia and Alzheimer’s disease care. Our Speech Language Pathologist knows that mental health contains components related to the individuals’ ability to achieve mobility and freedom. For more information on our wellness services, please call us at 813-344-3207.