Are dementia and Alzheimer’s the same thing? What’s the difference? How long until my mom will not be able to live at home anymore? How will I know when it is the right time to consider moving my dad to a specialized memory care community?
Your aging loved one was recently diagnosed with dementia. If you’re like most people, you probably think of Alzheimer’s disease when you first hear the word “dementia.” However, dementia is an umbrella term for ‘the disease through which cognitive function and the ability to perform everyday activities undergo a deterioration.’ Indeed, Alzheimer’s disease falls underneath that umbrella, as do vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. That’s why it is important to educate yourself about the disease.
Dementia is a progressive disease, which means it will get worse over time. For some people, dementia progresses rapidly. For others, it takes years to reach an advanced stage. In the mild stages, your loved one may be able to perform their daily routines without difficulty. By the moderate stages, they might start to have trouble doing routine tasks that they always did. In the severe stages, however, they will need to have help with day-to-day activities.
Because people with dementia progress through these stages at different speeds and with differing symptoms, it is helpful to focus on helping your loved one live well with dementia and meeting their needs at that time. Memory care communities do just that. A memory care community is a specialized program, usually housed within an assisted living community, that is structured, licensed, and staffed to handle the increased demands of caring for patients with dementia. So how do you know when it is the right time to consider moving your loved one to a specialized memory care community? The answer is not going to be the same for everybody, but there are signs you can watch for.
What You’ll Learn
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
- The difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, including the early symptoms of dementia
- The seven stages of dementia and the symptoms that typically accompany each one
- The signs it’s time to start exploring your memory care options
Chapter 1: The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Dementia is a broad term used to describe a collection of symptoms caused by changes in brain function. In the simplest terms, it is an irreversible decline in mental function.
Types of Dementia
Dementia occurs for a variety of reasons — one of which is Alzheimer’s disease. The reason the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are often used in place of each other is that Alzheimer’s disease accounts for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases.
Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most well-known and common form of dementia, not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease. There are many other different types and causes of dementia, including:
- Lewy body dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Vascular dementia
- Parkinson’s disease dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Mixed dementia
Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia isn’t just about memory loss, such as forgetting someone’s name or where you parked. Although a common symptom of dementia is a decline in memory, there are other symptoms that impact an individual’s ability to perform everyday activities independently.
For a person to be diagnosed with dementia, a doctor must find that they have two or three cognitive areas in decline. Common symptoms include:
- Less motivation and lack of initiative
- Changes in thinking skills
- Poor judgment and reasoning skills
- Decreased concentration and attention span
- Disorientation and/or decreased spatial awareness
- Changes in language and communication skills
- Mood changes, such as depression and/or anxiety
Chapter 2: The Stages of Dementia
Dementia is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time, but it progresses differently in everyone. Symptoms can range from mild memory loss to more severe cognitive difficulties that make it hard to manage daily activities without help.
These symptoms are broadly grouped into categories called stages. Many health care professionals divide dementia into a seven-stage scale called the Reisberg Scale, named for New York University physician and noted expert on aging Barry Reisberg.
Dividing dementia into stages helps health care professionals measure the progress of the disease. Becoming familiar with the stages of dementia can also give you and your family members a general idea of what your loved one’s future may hold so you can make plans accordingly.
Here’s a look at what you can typically expect from each stage of dementia. In the below scale, seniors in the first three stages typically don’t exhibit enough symptoms for a dementia diagnosis. By the time a diagnosis has been made, a person is typically in Stage 4, which is considered early dementia, and beyond. Stages 5 and 6 are considered middle dementia, and Stage 7 is considered late dementia.
Stage 1: No Cognitive Decline
At this stage, there are no obvious signs of dementia, and people are still able to function independently. The person functions normally, has no memory loss, and is mentally healthy.
Stage 2: Very Mild Cognitive Decline
This stage is used to describe normal forgetfulness associated with aging, such as misplacing keys but finding them again after some searching. Dementia signs are barely noticeable, even to the individual’s loved ones or their physician.
Stage 3: Mild Cognitive Decline
At this stage, people are usually still able to get up, going to the bathroom, get dressed — the basic activities of daily living — without difficulty. People may experience increased forgetfulness, slight difficulty concentrating, and decreased work performance. People may get lost more frequently or have difficulty finding the right words. During this stage, a person’s loved ones will begin to notice a cognitive decline.
Stage 4: Moderate Cognitive Decline
At this stage, people struggle with routine tasks that they always did, such as cooking, laundry, or using the phone. This stage includes difficulty in concentrating, decreased memory of recent events, and difficulties managing finances or traveling alone to new locations. People have trouble completing complex tasks efficiently or accurately and may be in denial about their symptoms. They may also start withdrawing from family or friends because socialization becomes difficult. At this stage, a physician can detect clear cognitive problems during a patient interview and exam. During this period of dementia, it’s a good idea for caregivers and loved ones to discuss and make decisions about the future. For example, a long-term care plan should be made and financial and legal matters put in place.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline
People in this stage have major memory deficiencies and need some assistance to complete their daily living activities. Memory loss is more prominent and may include major relevant aspects of current lives. For instance, people may not remember their address or phone number and may not know the time or day or where they are.
Stage 6: Severe Cognitive Decline
By this stage, caregivers have to help a lot more with day-to-day activities. People in this stage start to forget names of close family members and have little memory of recent events. Many people can remember only some details of earlier life. Incontinence (loss of bladder or bowel control) is a problem in this stage. Ability to speak declines. Personality and emotional changes may occur. By this stage of dementia, it usually becomes no longer safe to leave the individual alone, which means supervision is necessary.
Stage 7: Very Severe Cognitive Decline
This is the final stage of the disease. People in this stage have essentially no ability to speak or communicate. They require assistance with most activities, including using the toilet and eating, and they often lose psychomotor skills, such as the ability to walk. At some point, the individual will be 100 percent dependent on their caregiver and will no longer be able to complete any daily living activities on their own. Not all families are equipped to offer this level of care. There are other options for care, such as hiring a part-time caregiver or moving your loved one to a memory care community. It’s important to remember that the stages of dementia are somewhat fluid. Use them to help plan for future changes and to work with your doctor to develop solid treatment and long-term care plans.
Chapter 3: 6 Signs It Is Time for Memory Care
Memory care is a special kind of long-term care designed to meet the specific needs of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia or types of memory problems. Often housed within an assisted living community, a memory care program offers a more structured environment with set schedules and routines to create a stress-free lifestyle, safety features to ensure the health of the residents, and programs designed to cultivate cognitive skills.
One of the goals of memory care is to keep seniors with dementia engaged and active in a safe, homelike environment and to promote the highest quality of life by adapting the staff, environment, and daily routine to the needs of each individual.
Because of this, there is no downside to placing a loved one in a memory care community too soon. However, there are many drawbacks to waiting too long.
So how do you know when it is the right time to consider moving your loved one to a specialized memory care community? The following questions may be helpful when determining if a move to memory care is a good option.
Is My Loved One with Dementia Becoming Unsafe in Their Current Home?
As the disease progresses, your loved one with dementia will have a harder time functioning independently. Maybe you used to be able to help your mom by writing out a daily to-do list and a schedule of when she should take her medications. But now, she needs reminders to shower and help choosing appropriate clothes for the season.
Bathing, toileting, dressing, and other activities of daily living all come with risks. Safety should always be considered, and if there are any tasks that your loved one cannot perform safely on their own, assistance should be provided.
How often each day you worry about her, check on her, or make a call regarding her safety or whereabouts? If your loved one has fallen, had a driving accident, or suffered an unexplained injury, these are safety signs it’s time to consider moving your loved one to a memory care community.
Is the Health of My Loved One or My Health as a Caregiver at Risk?
Dementia will affect your loved one’s ability to remember to take prescribed medications at the right time or the right dosage, which can lead to serious health problems. For example, chronic health conditions such as COPD and heart disease may worsen rapidly if dementia interferes with your loved one’s ability to manage their treatment. You might also notice that loved one starts to look different. Maybe your dad is losing weight because he forgets to eat or gaining weight because he forgets he’s eaten and eats again.
When you look in a mirror, you might notice that you are starting to look different, too. Caring for someone with dementia is mentally draining and physically exhausting. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can have an impact on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout.
Is dementia preventing your loved one from taking care of their health? Are you and your other family members exhausted? It’s important to be honest with yourself about your emotional and physical limits while caregiving. Sometimes placement in a memory care community is best for both the caregiver and the loved one’s overall health and well-being.
Are My Loved One’s Care Needs Beyond My Physical Abilities?
In the later stages of dementia, your loved one may require assistance getting in and out of bed and moving from the bed to a chair. Additionally, dementia physically damages the brain, which can affect your loved one’s personality and behavior.
Wandering, agitation, repetitive speech or actions, paranoia, and sleeplessness may pose many challenges for families and caregivers. However, it’s important to remember that these behaviors are often coping tactics for a person with deteriorating brain function.
Is your petite 70-year-old mom trying to get your 180-pound dad to the bathroom two or three times each night? Is your dad’s aggression triggered by something — physical discomfort, being in an unfamiliar situation, poor communication — on a regular basis? If continuing to care for your loved one at home puts both of you in danger, that’s a telltale sign that it’s time for memory care.
Am I Becoming a Stressed, Irritable, and Impatient Caregiver?
Stress arousal is the first sign that you’re not getting the physical and emotional support you need as a caregiver. Maybe you’re frustrated or disappointed over your loved one’s deteriorating condition or lack of progress. It can be hard to accept that the quality of your care and effort have nothing to do with the actual health-related decline or mood of the care recipient. This frustration can lead to caregiver stress.
If you are so overwhelmed by taking care of someone else that you have neglected your own physical, mental and emotional well-being, it will not be long before you are experiencing caregiver burnout. When you are burned out, it is tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else.
Am I Neglecting Work Responsibilities, My Family, and Myself?
You might be struggling to maintain a sense of purpose in working so hard to provide care, which leads to neglecting responsibilities, withdrawing socially from friends and family, and having much less energy than you once had.
Family caregivers often have to take time off, either paid or unpaid, while some have to reduce their work hours. Others leave the workforce entirely in order to provide full-time care for a loved one. Additionally, caregivers don’t have as much time to take care of themselves, and they can often feel cut off from the outside world. Social isolation leads to higher levels of both caregiver stress and depression.
Are you feeling irritable or hopeless, struggling with emotional and physical exhaustion, or getting sick more often? Do you have heightened anxiety or trouble making care decisions? If your loved one’s need for care is wearing you out, it’s may be time to start considering your memory care options.
Would the Structure and Social Interaction at a Memory Care Community Benefit My Loved One?
Somewhere in the middle and late stages of dementia, your loved one will no longer be able to drive, and communication will become increasingly difficult. Your loved one may lose track of their thoughts, may be unable to follow conversations, and may have trouble understanding what others are trying to communicate.
Maybe it’s become too challenging to take your mom out to eat, shop, or exercise because her behavior is unpredictable. Or perhaps your dad can no longer drive, so he rarely goes out and is restless and lonely.
Is dementia shrinking your loved one’s world? Memory care programs are equipped to provide activities and stimulation — including trips and outings — that can keep your loved one engaged and active in a safe, homelike environment.
If you answered yes to any of these questions or if you have reached a point where you feel like you cannot fully meet the needs of a loved one struggling with memory impairment, it is time to start visiting memory care communities. Memory care communities offer specialized environments where your loved one can not only live but even thrive. Plus, knowing that your loved one has trained 24-hour care can help relieve the caregiving burden and give your family peace of mind.