Recognizing the signs of dementia is key to accessing support
By Terri Bowser
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, September 20, 2021
It's a little-known fact that older adults generally have higher life satisfaction than people aged 29-50. Reasons for this may include better coping skills, shifted priorities and reduced stressors. But the lustre of our "golden years" can be impacted if brain changes like dementia develop.
Dementia is not a normal product of aging, but its likelihood does increase with age. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, but there are many others. Many people wonder what are the signs of dementia, and what should they do if they suspect a problem. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to that, but there are some things you can look for.
Memory loss is the most well-known sign and often the memories affected are more recent ones. We all forget things sometimes, but if memory issues are affecting your daily abilities, there may be something more going on. This may include problems finding the right word, or substituting words in a way that makes communication difficult.
Another warning sign is having trouble doing things that you always used to do. This might include simple tasks such as getting dressed, cooking, or playing a game. There may also be a change in judgement. Some examples could include not recognizing that your driving is impaired, or negative changes in self-care.
Personality and mood changes can also occur in early dementia. Someone may have mood swings, may become suspicious or fearful, or may withdraw from others.
Dementia can be very different from one person to the other. There is no universal presentation, but if you think that there may be changes happening, there are some things you can do.
First, talk to your doctor. Dementia is not diagnosed by any particular medical test, but ruling out other possible medical causes for the changes you see is important. If they are a result of something other than dementia, the cause may be treatable. Monitoring changes will also help in establishing an early diagnosis.
Getting the right supports in place is also very important. There are many supports to help people to live independently in their homes as long as possible. The WRHA's Home Care Program provides a wide variety of supports to help people live safely at home. There are Adult Day Programs, which provide therapeutic recreational, mental fitness, and physical fitness programs, socialization and peer support. These programs also provide respite and support to caregivers. Access to Adult Day Programs is arranged through Home Care. There are also many private home care providers available.
The Alzheimer's Society of Manitoba (ASM) provides a wide variety of programs, education and supports for people living with dementia and their care providers. Individuals can call directly to connect with the Society for support and information at 204-943-6622 (in Winnipeg).
For caregivers, learning about dementia, understanding the disease, and learning about how to communicate, interact, and help a person living with dementia is essential. It can feel discouraging and frustrating as people change and we don't understand what is happening to them or why they might react differently than they used to. The ASM has many resources for education. iGeriCare (igericare.healthhq.ca) is an excellent source of dementia education, and the UCLA Caregiver training videos address many common situations and are very helpful.
As needs progress, some people may need to arrange for more supportive living environments. This may be an assisted living facility, supportive housing, or ultimately a personal care home. The Long Term & Continuing Care Association of Manitoba website provides some information about these and other support services.
There are so many services available, it can be overwhelming. If you are struggling with figuring out where to turn, or what type of help you need, you can call the WRHA's Geriatric Program Outreach Teams. These teams, (Geriatric Program Assessment Team and Geriatric Mental Health Team) can send a clinician to your home to do a full assessment of your needs and help to set you up with the right resources. They can be reached here.
Although there is no cure for dementia, setting up supports and planning will help you to live life to its fullest and navigate the road ahead. A dementia diagnosis can be scary and uncertain, but there is a lot of life and love left to give and receive.
Terri Bowser is Regional Educator Rehabilitation, Healthy Aging and Seniors Care with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.