Understanding Dementia

Having a loved one with dementia poses many challenges for caregivers and families. Understanding dementia, in terms of what it is, what to expect, and how to live life with it can go a long way toward easing the burden for everyone.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a progressive biological brain condition. It is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, reasoning, and remembering — to the point where it interferes with a person’s activities and daily life. It can also cause an individual’s personality to change and cause them to lose control of their emotions. Dementia can range in severity from the mildest stage, where it only begins to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, where it causes the person to depend entirely on others for basic activities of daily living.

A person’s response to dementia

Dementia is a highly complex condition, both emotionally and physically. Some people may not acknowledge that they have dementia and deny that they’re experiencing difficulties. Others may be aware that things are becoming harder but see it as a normal part of aging rather than the onset of dementia. The response to dementia is as unique as the person experiencing it. The way someone reacts will depend on their personality, the social and emotional support they have, their understanding of dementia, their previous experiences, and more. Likewise, people may respond differently at different times.

It is quite common for a person diagnosed with dementia not to understand or accept their diagnosis. This may be because the person is in denial or because they see the world much differently than we do -– which is a symptom of dementia itself. This is just one reason a person with dementia should always be treated as an individual rather than defined by their condition or by the negative aspects of their lost abilities.

Changes in behavior

As the condition progresses, a person with dementia may start to behave in ways that are not in line with their personality. This can be challenging and distressing, both for the individual and those around them. For example, a person with dementia may:

  • Become restless or agitated
  • Ask the same question repeatedly
  • Follow someone around
  • Shout out or scream
  • Become suspicious of others

These out-of-character behaviors usually occur for a reason. Most often, the person has a need that isn’t being addressed, and they just can’t communicate it. They might be thirsty, hungry, or in pain. Or they may feel threatened, frustrated, or simply bored.

Changes to relationships

The relationships in our lives form a fundamental part of our identity. However, relationships often change when someone develops dementia. People with dementia tend to become isolated, avoiding those around them. They may lose contact with friends and family who don’t know how to react to them.

As dementia progresses, certain aspects of relationships can become more difficult, such as the ability of a person with dementia to support those around them. However, positive elements of relationships (such as affection) will remain. Loved ones and those around the person with dementia may find it comforting to focus on those positive aspects.

How can you help someone with dementia?

Person-centered care is essential to the quality of life for someone with dementia. That means support that is sensitive to the person as an individual. It should promote their well-being and meet their needs—focusing on what the person still does have, not what they may have lost. When with an individual with dementia, it’s best to concentrate on what they feel rather than what they remember.

The thing that may be hard for someone without dementia to comprehend is that a person with dementia may be experiencing a world that is very different from the one actually around them. However, it’s just as real to them as your world is to you. Ultimately, understanding dementia and supporting your loved one involve trying to see things from their perspective.

Coping strategies for a person with dementia

Here are a few basic and effective strategies that communities like The Cabana at Jensen Dunes use to help a person with dementia better cope on a day-to-day basis.

  • Helpful reminders or visual cues
  • Intentional placement of surroundings/furniture
  • Creative and fun activities
  • Social group activities
  • Spiritual support
  • Lighthearted and fun atmosphere – with a focus on the positive
  • Emphasis on short-term pleasures – living in the moment
  • Exercise classes
  • Healthy diet

The way a person with dementia feels and experiences life is shaped by far more than the condition itself. Their relationships, environment, and support all shape their experience. That’s why at The Cabana at Jensen Dunes, we provide world-class assisted living and memory care services so our members achieve the perfect balance of care, support, and comfort. To learn more about our community or to schedule a private tour, give us a call at 772-758-1003 or fill out the form on this page.