15 Things You Probably Never Knew About Dementia
Dementia affects millions of people, yet a lot of myths about this condition still exist. Whether you have a loved one who suffers from dementia or you just want to learn more for yourself, here are 15 interesting things you probably never knew about dementia.
1. Denial is common — but it doesn’t help
Loved ones commonly ignore signs of dementia in aging relatives. After all, we all want to hope for the best. But denying symptoms of dementia isn’t just pointless; it’s harmful. Don’t waste precious time ignoring the signs, because identifying dementia early can improve treatment options. The many benefits to early detection include the fact that some medications are more effective when taken at the earliest signs of dementia.
Next: Be mindful of the quantity and quality of drugs.
2. Too many medications can have negative effects
Some patients experience even worse memory loss or disorientation when they end up with too many prescriptions for dementia. When you go to the doctor with your loved one, bring a list of every single thing they take, including vitamins, and inquire about possible side effects. Also, ask how long the patient should take each drug. Often, people take medication long after they should stop, which can lead to negative side effects.
Next: It’s never too late to boost your brainpower.
3. You can still improve brain health after a dementia diagnosis
Many people give up when they receive a dementia diagnosis. It seems like there’s little to do to improve brain function at that point. However, there’s a lot you can do. While the condition isn’t curable, it’s treatable. Regular exercise and meaningful activities that stimulate the brain can delay symptoms and give the patient more good days than bad.
Next: Try to let it go.
4. Dementia patients can’t always control their behavior
Being a caregiver for someone with dementia can be frustrating and emotional. Try to remember they can’t control their behavior. Someone with dementia isn’t deliberately trying to ignore or hurt you although they may say hurtful things.
Next: When it gets bad, remember this.
5. Tomorrow may just be 30 minutes away
The thing with dementia is that a patient’s memory comes and goes. You could have a horrible scene as you try to prepare your dad for the doctor. Then, things may calm down a short time and return to (relatively) normal. When you’re caring for someone with dementia, remember to take it one half-hour at a time.
If your loved one asks for someone who’s no longer around (like a relative who has passed), try the validation method. For example, instead of telling your dad his grandmother is gone, ask him to tell you about her. This can be immensely calming for both of you.
Next: This will make you rethink everything you know about dementia.
6. Dementia isn’t its own disease
Dementia is an umbrella term for a number of diseases that affect the brain, including Alzheimer’s (the most common). This is good to know as you talk to others about their experiences. The condition can manifest in different ways, so your loved one could have a much different experience from others. This also means there’s a spectrum as far as the severity of symptoms.
Next: It’s time for men to step it up.
7. Women suffer from dementia more than men
Women suffer from dementia two-fold. First, they are more likely than men to get dementia in the first place. This could be because women, in general, live longer than men and have more of an opportunity to develop the condition as they age. Also, women are more likely to become caregivers for a loved one with dementia. On a global scale, women take on the burden of dementia disproportionately to men.
Next: Know the signs beyond a loss of memory.
8. Dementia involves more than just memory loss
We tend to equate dementia with memory loss, but there are other symptoms, too. Knowing the other symptoms, like confusion, disorientation, trouble communicating, mood swings, sudden aggression, and personality changes. If you notice anyone in your family with these signs, get them to a doctor to get a diagnosis and rule out any other causes.
Next: It’s not just for the elderly.
9. Dementia can happen before age 65
This condition tends to progress as we age, but it isn’t just a disease for the elderly. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease affects those younger than 65. Current estimates suggest around 200,000 Americans have early-onset Alzheimer’s. These patients are in their 40s or 50s and may even be a caregiver for someone with dementia.
Because they are so young, they are often misdiagnosed. If you think you have early-onset dementia, keep a record of symptoms to discuss with your doctor. Also, make sure to mention if you have a family history with the condition, as there seems to be a genetic component.
Next: It’s one of the most common diseases in aging populations.
10. About 50 million people around the world have dementia
According to the World Health Organization, about 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, and an additional 10 million people are diagnosed every year. Dementia is unique in that it’s incurable and also non-terminal. People don’t die from it, though their quality of life suffers.
Next: But, you may still have a chance to avoid it.
11. You can take preventative measures
While there’s still a lot of research to be done as far as dementia prevention, current data suggests we aren’t all doomed to have the condition, even if it runs in our family. Preventative measures include quitting smoking (or never starting), cutting down on alcohol use, eating a healthy diet, and sustaining a healthy weight, as well as maintaining healthy cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.
Next: Dementia seems to have a demographic.
12. Dementia is more common in poor, uneducated populations
Dementia is more common in poorer areas. It’s also more common among people who are not college-educated. This is true around the world, not just in America. India and China, for example, are seeing a rise in dementia patients among their populations, too.
While research is inconclusive on why dementia seems to target these demographics, it signifies the start of a global health crisis as more people move into lower-income environments. Some researchers believe a prolonged education builds up a “cognitive reserve,” which can make the brain more efficient. A stimulating job can also give you a cognitive reserve.
Next: Take care of yourself. Please.
13. Caregiver burnout is real
If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, you’ve likely had moments when you felt like you just couldn’t take it anymore. This is caregiver burnout. Get some help, even if it means hiring an in-home nurse or health aid for a few hours a week so you can take time to relax. Be kind to yourself, and don’t forget to sleep.
Next: How much does dementia cost us every year?
14. Dementia costs the U.S. almost $300 billion annually
Alzheimer’s cost the U.S. $277 billion in 2018, not including unpaid caregiving costs. The bulk is for Medicaid ($186 billion), followed by $60 billion for out-of-pocket costs. In 2017, the cost of unpaid family caregiving was worth about $232 billion. The added burden of caregiving was estimated to be an extra $11.4 billion in healthcare costs. And that’s just for Alzheimer’s. The cost of dementia care is estimated to be over $1.1 trillion by the year 2050 (in 2018 dollars).
Next: It isn’t all hopeless, fortunately.
15. You can still live a good life with dementia
Dementia is a challenging disease. But, for many patients, it’s still possible to live a good life. Proper care and treatment are essential for anyone to live a full life with the condition. If you’re a caregiver, surround yourself with a supportive team so you can take a break and recharge. This will give you the patience you need to help your loved one live their best life.