Dementia and Empowering our Caregivers

Joann Ramsey

A community support group can help caregivers gain education, support, and connect with other caregivers of those with memory loss, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and other types of dementia.

Although dementia mainly affects older people, the good news is it isn’t a normal part of ageing. As we age, many of us experience lapses in memory. It can be worrying and confusing to realize that something you once took for granted isn’t working as well as it used to. But not all memory changes indicate dementia—and dementia impacts more than just memory. Symptoms can also affect visual and spatial skills, executive functioning, language, and mood or personality.

Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Differentiating the signs of dementia from normal ageing can help to either set your mind at rest or encourage you to begin taking steps for a professional diagnosis.

Distinguishing between normal memory loss and dementia symptoms is not an exact science but there are some clues to look for:

Typical aging:

* You or a loved one complain about memory loss but are able to provide detailed examples of your forgetfulness

* You occasionally search for words

* You may have to pause to remember directions, but don’t get lost in familiar places

* You remember recent important events and your conversations are not impaired

* Your interpersonal social skills are at the same level as they’ve always been

* You misplace something but are able to retrace your steps to find the misplaced item

Symptoms of dementia:

* You complain of memory loss only if asked but are unable to recall specific instances

* You experience frequent word-finding pauses and substitutions

* You get lost in familiar places and take excessive time to return home

* You experience a notable decline in memory for recent events and ability to converse with others

* You’ve lost interest in social activities and may behave in socially inappropriate ways

* You find misplaced items in unconventional places

Ageing: It’s something we all have to face but the inevitable changes of aging can still be both humbling and surprising. But while experiencing wrinkling skin, fading hair color, and mild, short-term memory loss is common as we age, many people are able to preserve their brainpower as they get older by staying mentally and physically active and making other healthy lifestyle choices.

Recent research suggests that healthy lifestyle habits and mental stimulation may help prevent dementia altogether, delay its onset, or, if you’ve already been diagnosed, slow the onset of more debilitating symptoms. So, keep up with regular exercise, maintain a healthy diet, continue to learn new things, be socially active, get quality sleep, and reduce your stress.

Our inaugural meeting is Monday, September 13, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the La Hacienda in the La Mesa Room. For more information, contact Joann Ramsey at 760-668-6009 or [email protected].