As our loved ones age, we become increasingly worried for them and their health. One issue that frequently arises in the elderly population is dementia or the loss of cognitive functioning. Roughly one-third of all people aged 85 years or older are affected by dementia in some form. Because of the potentially severe effects of dementia, it is important to know what signs may indicate that it is worsening.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a major neurological disorder with no known cure. It will affect a person’s ability to remember, think, and reason, as well as potentially change their personality and alter their control over their emotions. These symptoms are caused by changes in certain regions of the brain that result in neurons and their connections failing to work together properly. These incorrectly functioning cells will eventually die. Dementia is not a single, specific disease; instead, it is a general term applied to disorders that affect a person’s neurological abilities. Since dementia is only a general term, the effects can vary significantly from person to person. Signs and symptoms can include:
- Wandering and becoming lost in a familiar neighborhood
- Repeating questions
- Difficulty with speaking, understanding, and expressing thoughts, or reading and writing
- Taking longer to complete typical daily tasks
- Hallucinating or experiencing paranoia or delusions
- Disinterest in other people’s feelings
- Trouble with responsibly handling money or paying bills
Is Dementia a Normal Part of Aging?
Typical signs of aging include stiffening of vessels and arteries, muscle and bone weakness, and some minor memory changes. These memory changes include struggling to find a word but remembering it later, forgetting very recent events, occasionally misplacing items, and forgetting the name of an acquaintance. These minor memory lapses are much different from dementia, as experiences and knowledge that were built over their lives, language, and old memories will remain intact. These expected changes should also not significantly affect their day-to-day lives. Dementia is not considered a normal part of aging, as many senior citizens live out the entirety of their lives without developing the condition.
Signs that Dementia is Worsening
Dementia can pose serious safety problems for our loved ones that are affected, so being aware of signs that indicate an increase in severity is important. Symptoms of dementia are unpredictable—even if a person is stable for a long time, dementia can suddenly cause an increase in symptoms. Signs that dementia may be increasing in severity include:
- Puzzling Actions – Because dementia will alter a person’s brain, they may begin to act in ways that their loved ones find confusing. These actions can include aggressive reactions, hallucinations, excessive hand activity, restlessness, and increased agitation later in the day (sundowning). Dementia patients may also repeat words or rock back and forth as self-soothing mechanisms. An increase in sounds, like groaning, moaning, and grunting, could also be expected as dementia increases.
- Behavioral Changes – A rapid increase in behavioral symptoms, like disorientation or hostility, could potentially indicate the presence of a more severe underlying issue. Some common medical complaints for the elderly, like urinary tract infections, bloating, and gas, can cause discomfort and pain that can present as increased irritation. Those affected with dementia may be unable to communicate what is happening with their bodies, so these medical issues outwardly present as unhappiness. Personality changes can also occur as dementia worsens.
- Difficulties Communicating – If your loved one has managed to communicate fairly well or with few word choice errors, a decrease in communication abilities can signal that the dementia is getting worse. Their neurological connections and mental capacities are decreasing, causing an inability to communicate effectively.
- Reduced Physical State – Worsening signs of dementia are indicated by the body’s beginning to shut down. Signs like weight loss, loss of mobility, incontinence, and skin infections indicate that your loved one’s body is struggling to function properly. The senior may also begin having seizures or more severe seizures as the damage to their brain increases.
Q: How Should I Care for My Loved One that Suffers from Dementia?
A: Caring for an aging loved one can be a complex situation, as every person will need a plan that is tailored to their needs. The first step should be speaking with your loved one’s doctors and understanding the severity of their dementia, as well as any other health issues they may be experiencing. If your loved one’s dementia has progressed to a point where they need 24/7 care, it may be time to consider transitioning them to an assisted living facility.
Q: What Are the Late-Stage Signs of Dementia?
A: Because dementia is a general term that describes a number of different neurological issues, there are a few signs and symptoms that apply to every person. One of the major indications that your loved one has entered late-stage dementia is their body has begun shutting down. The affected person may become bedridden due to weight and mobility loss. They may also become uncommunicative and sleep much more frequently.
Q: What Causes Dementia to Progress Quickly?
A: Dementia is a degenerative condition that will continue to worsen as time goes on. It is impossible to predict how and when symptoms will progress, but there are some things identified that can cause them to worsen more quickly. These include a change in routine, stroke or other brain injuries, isolation, poor health, little physical activity, and some medications.
Q: What Are the Different Types of Dementia?
A: Dementia is not a single condition but instead a general term that applies when there is a progressive and irreversible loss of brain function due to neuron death. The various types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and mixed dementia. Mixed dementia is a combination of two or more dementia types that cause many brain changes associated with different forms of dementia.
Your Elderly Loved One with Dementia
Your loved one is incredibly important to you and learning about their health conditions is only one way to show your love. Unfortunately, you may not be in a position to provide the comprehensive care that your loved one needs while they navigate their lives with dementia. Dementia is caused by irreparable damage, and symptoms can worsen at any moment. Rocky Mountain Assisted Living provides a safe place for your loved one, staffed with experts that will care for your loved one as carefully as you would. Contact us today so we can discuss how our facilities can help your loved one succeed with their dementia diagnosis.