Occasional memory loss is a normal part of the aging process. And that may make it difficult to differentiate between what is to be expected as we get older, and what is a sign of dementia.
Annette Tritico, RN, spoke at the Sulphur Senior Center Thursday about the differences between the two and offered tips for interacting with those suffering from any of dementia’s many forms.
Tritico, a clinical liaison with Evangeline Home Health, said it is normal, as a person ages, to make bad decisions, miss making monthly payments, forget which day it is, or which words to use, or to lose things from time to time.
With normal aging, lost items are located, the day of the week is remembered, and the elusive word reappears. With dementia, the occasional becomes constant. Signs include overall poor judgment and decision making, inability to manage a budget, losing track of the date or season, difficulty having a conversation, and misplacing things for good.
Tritico acknowledged the frustration caregivers may feel when dealing with those affected by the condition. “When they are banging and stomping, they aren’t trying to get on your nerves,” she said. “They need something.”
She explained that for those with dementia, though they can’t remember things that happened an hour earlier, memories of their younger days are crystal clear. “Play them music from their youth,” she said. “They live back in time. The most important thing you have to do is live in their world.”
She said unless it is a life and death matter, don’t challenge mistaken impressions. For instance, if a patient says it’s snowing in the middle of July, agree that the snow is pretty, and invite them to see the summer weather out of another window. “And introduce yourself to them every time,” she said.
In her experience in home health care, Tritico has gained a great deal of insight from other caregivers.
“Caregivers have taught me that Alzheimer’s is the only disease in which you die twice,” she said.
The lesson that helped her the most came from a husband caring for his ill wife. Tritico explained that because there is a lack of short-term memory, patients with dementia repeat things. “When his wife repeated things, he’d say ‘first time.’ That reminded him that to her, it was the first time she had said it.
“Take the phrases ‘remember’ and ‘I told you that’ out of your vocabulary,” she said.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that Alzheimer’s is responsible for as many as 80 percent of all dementia diagnoses. Doctors have consistently reported a buildup of abnormal structures – amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. It is unknown at this time if these structures are the cause or the result of the disease.
Regardless, Tritico said limiting fat and cholesterol will reduce the amount of plaque buildup in the blood, which leads to buildup in the brain. Couple that diet with regular exercise to help increase circulation, too little of which also causes plaque buildup.
Tritico closed with a final piece of advice for family and caregivers: “Make that last chapter enjoyable,” she said.