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Understanding Dementia: Symptoms and Critical Information

Understanding Dementia: Symptoms and Critical Information

| May 02, 2019

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functions serious enough to interfere with daily living. Dementia is not a disease. It is a term that defines a wide range of symptoms.  It helps to think of Dementia as you would think of a fever.  A fever is a syndrome with an elevated body temperature, body aches and chills but it is not an illness.  The underlying illness is what causes a fever.  The same is true for Dementia.  It is the underlying disease or injury that causes Dementia. 

The symptoms of Dementia are:

  • Memory Loss

  • Communication and Language

  • Thought – delusions, difficulty with abstract thinking

  • Reasoning and Judgment

  • Time/Place Disorientation

  • Visual – hallucinations, vision

  • Inability to focus and pay attention

The underlying disease or injury, causing the Dementia, relates to the brain so symptoms vary from person to person depending on the area of the brain affected.   A person has to have at least 2 symptoms to be diagnosed with some type of Dementia.

There are many causes or types of Dementia and the most common is Alzheimer’s disease.  The second most common is Vascular dementia which can occur after a stroke.  And there are many others such as Lewy Body disease, Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD, used to be called Pick’s Disease), head trauma, alcoholism, etc. 

The main risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age.  It is estimated that 50% of people 85 years old will develop Alzheimer’s or some other type of Dementia.  And the risk increases as we age to the point where if a person lives to be 116 years old they will have 100% risk of having Alzheimer’s.  Women are at higher risk because they live longer and family history can increase the risk. 

Many types of Dementia are progressive.  For example, with Alzheimer’s disease the symptoms start slowly and get worse over time.  Everybody progresses at a different rate and the average length is 6 to 8 years but Alzheimer’s can last up to 20 years.

There are other causes of Dementia called Reversible Dementias.  This occurs when the person has the symptoms but the symptoms can be reversed or the person will get better once treated such as a Urinary Tract Infection, medication side effects, etc. 

Any diagnosis of “Dementia” is not a complete diagnosis.  It is very important to get an accurate diagnose because not all Dementias are treated the same and if the symptoms are caused by a Reversible Dementia the person can get better upon treatment. Do not settle for a diagnosis of “Dementia”.  If this occurs the person should see a specialist such as a neurologist.    

The treatment depends on what type of Dementia a person has.  With Alzheimer’s there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops the progression.  However there are drug treatments that may improve the symptoms.

When a person has Lewy Body disease there is a long list of drugs that need to be avoided because they can cause adverse reactions or the opposite reaction of what the drug is supposed to fix.  It is interesting to note that this is the type of Dementia Robin Williams had and he was not diagnosed until after his death.  Lewy Body disease is typically associated with Parkinson’s disease.   

The current thinking is by taking care of our body we are taking care of our brain.  So, diet and exercise are important to prevent Dementia. It is also important to understand Dementia and if a person is showing the symptoms of Dementia it is imperative to get an accurate diagnosis.

As more and more people find themselves caring for an aging family member, it can be important to be aware of potential changes that could indicate loss of cognitive function.  Unfortunately, loss of cognitive function can make investors more susceptible to being taken advantage of. Adding a trusted contact person onto your financial account can help your financial advisor help to safeguard you against this type of situation. Naming someone a TCP does not allow that person to transact business on your behalf, nor to receive your confidential information regarding account holdings, such as account numbers, values, or balances. It only allows your advisor to contact this person to check on you if they can’t reach you or see suspicious account activity.

Connect with one of our advisors to review your trusted contact options.

Lynette is a Certified Dementia Trainer and Specialist and began her journey as one of her Mom’s main caregivers when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is a State of Florida certified “Assisted Living Facility Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Training Provider” and a University of South Carolina certified Dementia Dialogues Trainer and Dementia Specialist.

Lynette has worked in many Memory Care Units and long-term care facilities and as a Support Group Facilitator. She has also been a featured guest on a live radio show for caregivers, has been a speaker at educational and caregiver conferences and currently teaches a class for those who care for people with any form of Dementia. Her mission is to make the difficult journey through this terrible disease as best as possible for all involved. Like her Facebook page called “Dementia Tips” to read more tips for caregivers or contact her at: