Dementia is Like Sand Slipping Between Your Fingers

Dementia robs patients and families of precious time both in terms of quantity and quality. Although it can be heartbreaking to see a loved one regress mentally, knowing what to expect and how to react can bring comfort to all those involved.

Dementia, a term for diseases that lead to a decline in memory, thinking, speech and physical abilities, is caused by degeneration of the brain. Since the brain controls most bodily functions, eventually the entire body is affected.

  • Approximately 60-70% of dementias are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. There are about 6 million people in the USA over the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer Association. Alzheimer’s disease usually progresses gradually and continually.
  • About 20% of dementias are due to vascular disease. With vascular dementia, tiny strokes occur in succession leading to a stair-step progression of the dementia, not a gradual decline.
  • Around 15% of dementias are due to Lewy bodies. Lewy body dementia has a close link with Parkinson disease. New research is also showing genetic links between Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease and Lewy body dementia.

Other research has shown that at least one of the genes that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can also cause frontotemporal dementia. We used to think that ALS only led to muscle wasting. Now we know it can also cause dementia.

The most obvious symptom of dementia is memory loss. At first it might be attributed to simple forgetfulness. As it progresses, people with dementia may begin to get lost and forget how to do simple tasks such as tying a necktie. Word selection and speech can also be affected. Later in the disease, walking and the control of the bladder and the bowels are affected. Some patients with dementia hallucinate or have delusions (false thoughts).

Medications can help people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. They can slightly decrease symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Antipsychotic medicines are sometimes used when behaviors or abnormal thoughts become a problem. When Alzheimer’s disease reaches the end stage, the medicines that slow the disease progression lose their effectiveness. More care is needed, and there are increased burdens on family members.

Hospice care from The Elizabeth Hospice is an option to be considered. As the largest nonprofit hospice provider in San Diego County and Southwest Riverside County, we offer a comprehensive program that goes beyond managing symptoms and relieving pain. We become our patients’ trusted companion and customize the comfort care experience to meet their unique needs and wants. Our focus is not on the illness but on embracing experiences that bring meaning and joy to a person’s life.

The Elizabeth Hospice provides all the necessary durable medical equipment, like walkers, hospital beds and bedside commodes, as well as the hospice-related medicines. Each patient is placed under the care of an interdisciplinary team comprised of a hospice doctor or nurse practitioner, registered nurse case manager, social work, home health aide and spiritual counselor.

Having the hospice team visit the patient’s residence relieves the family of many burdens and leads to fewer hospitalizations. Families of people with dementia know how difficult hospitalizations can be due to the disruption of routines and the confusion they cause to dementia patients.

Family caregivers appreciate the support they receive from The Elizabeth Hospice. They are given the freedom to be loving family members since the hospice team takes care of their loved one’s medical and nursing details of care. Hospice even has respite care, a three-to-five-day stay in a nursing home, supervised by the hospice team, that allows family caregivers the opportunity to take a vacation or other needed breaks.

The important thing is that you and your loved one will receive the attention and treatment you need and deserve. We call this individualized, compassionate care, The E Way. To find out how your loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia can benefit from hospice care, contact The Elizabeth Hospice at 800.797.2050.

By George Delgado, MD, Chief Medical Officer, The Elizabeth Hospice