Deborah Rose column: It’s ‘heartbreaking’ when dementia sets in
There are days my mind is so cluttered with things to do I can barely recall what I ate for breakfast just hours earlier.
Sometimes I use the word “thingamajig” to describe something because I can’t spit out the word I need fast enough.
And, I’ll admit I can look at a photograph of a classmate from high school and be at a complete loss of his or her name.
Forgetting things happens to us all, especially as we age. However, we can usually remember a person’s name after a few minutes or recall a forgotten word relatively fast.
But for some folks, a decline and loss of certain mental abilities is significant enough to mean something else is going on.
Dementia, which is not a normal part of aging, is a general term for the loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other cognitive abilities that are pronounced enough to interfere with daily life. The changes can affect behavior, feelings and relationships.
Alzheimer’s, which is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills, is the most common cause of dementia.
Worldwide, 50 million people live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to www.alz.org.
Many different types of dementia exist, and many conditions cause it.
Among the dementias are Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s Disease, mixed dementia, normal pressure hydrocephalus, posterior cortical atrophy, Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, vascular dementia and Korsakoff Syndrome.
It is heartbreaking to watch the cognitive abilities of a loved one slip, regardless of the cause.
At first, it can be slow, and the changes can be small, so subtle that family members or friends may surmise the decline is due to typical aging. But in time, more cognitive and/or behavioral changes may occur.
A loved one might call you by the incorrect name and not catch the error, or not recognize you at all; struggle to find the right word while talking; lack judgment and/or make poor decisions; confuse the date or season; not be able to find his/her way around the house or safely use everyday items such as a stove or coffeemaker; misplace things and be unable to retrace his/her steps; share stories of perceived interactions with others who aren’t present; lash out at those closest to him/her; repeat the same story; and wander.
Any of those symptoms could be a sign a loved one is suffering from something more than changes related to typical aging.
Having previously worked in an elderly community and having been a regular visitor to a skilled care facility pre-pandemic, I’ve witnessed the cognitive decline of several individuals, and I’ve seen it firsthand with people close to me.
It is not easy for the person suffering from cognitive changes. At first, the individual might recognize the decline, grow frustrated and grieve the loss of faculties.
And it takes a toll on caregivers, family members and friends. Feelings of helplessness, exhaustion and depression can surface for all those involved. Grief can set in, too, because it can feel as if the loved one is lost — or has died — because he/she is no longer the person we once knew.
Finding a team of health professionals that provides expertise, guidance and understanding, and a support network can help those involved navigate some of the challenges.
It’s also paramount to remember that a loved one affected by dementia doesn’t choose to be affected; it’s caused by changes in the brain.
To learn more about the caregiver’s support group that is meeting virtually now, call the NMVNA at 860-354-2216.
Deborah Rose is a lifelong New Milford resident who has worked at The Spectrum since its inception in 1998. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.