It started slowly. Mom left her purse at the grocery store. She forgot to turn off the stove and scorched the tea kettle. Frequently, she began a task, such as making a phone call, only to realize she couldn’t recall what it was she wanted to accomplish. We didn’t realize it at the time, but these were the first signs of dementia, a progressive neurological disorder that robs individuals of memory and cognitive function.
There are an estimated 47 million people in the world with dementia. Almost 10 million are diagnosed every year. For many, like my mother, the onset of dementia occurs with age, after a stroke or other brain trauma.
However, 60-70 percent of all dementia cases are attributed to Alzheimer’s Disease. Parkinson’s Disease is another harbinger of this form of cognitive impairment.
For people with Parkinson’s Disease, dementia often develops as the brain becomes more impaired. Around 50-80 percent of people with Parkinson’s will develop dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The effects are particularly harsh because the person with Parkinson’s dementia is not only losing their ability to reason and remember, they are also experiencing impaired mobility. The average time from onset of PD to dementia is 10 years.
Like PD, there is no cure for dementia, but some people benefit from certain lifestyle changes and treatments. Cholinesterase inhibitors, antipsychotic drugs, and antidepressants are commonly prescribed to help the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
But caregivers and loved ones of people with PD and dementia should attend to their own well-being, too.
As the person with dementia becomes increasingly disoriented, personality and mood changes may be frequent. They may hallucinate or experience episodes of paranoia. These changes can be extremely difficult for the caregiver or family members. For example, my formerly gentile, 85-year-old mother insulted her paid caregivers and accused them of stealing. As the disease progressed, she didn’t recognize me or was convinced I was her long-dead sister.
I suffered along with her. It became essential for me to recognize that my mother—as I knew her—was no longer fully present. There were times when she seemed her “old self,” but these glimmers of recognition became less frequent as the condition robbed her of her memory and ability to reason.
Although my mother didn’t have PD, the symptoms of her dementia were the same as what is known as Parkinson’s dementia. And the advice I found from the Family Caregiver Alliance holds true.
- Set a positive mood for interaction
- Speak in a pleasant and respectful manner
- Don’t raise your voice or talk down to the person
- If appropriate, use physical touch to express your affection
- Limit distractions and noise
- Make eye contact
- Use simple words and sentences—be clear and concise
- Ask simple, answerable questions
- Minimize choices
- Break down tasks into easy to accomplish steps
- Refrain from correcting repetition (“Mom, you just told me about your doctor’s visit!”)
- Encourage trips down memory lane
- Maintain a sense of humor
- Practice patience
Above all, surround yourself with support. Seek out family members and friends who can help care for your loved one. If possible, hire a sitter or caregiver to provide you with respite days/nights. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to better care for your loved one.
Want to learn more about accessible technology for dementia and Alzheimer’s? Check out this guide at DecisionData.org.