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Understanding Dementia

A progressive, complex illness

Dementia is a progressive illness that affects the memory when brain cells are damaged due to illness or injury. Symptoms of dementia include confusion, changes in behavior and communication, reduced problem-solving abilities, and difficulty learning new skills. To be classified as dementia, two or more brain functions must be impaired.

There are several different types of dementia with numerous causes. The most common is Alzheimer’s disease.

These brain changes can cause feelings of fear, anger, and depression in the person with dementia. It is difficult for family members to know how to help their loved one while dealing with their own sense of loss as the person they’ve known throughout their lives is changing.

When a family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, it is important to discuss the various legal and financial issues such as a will, living trust and advance directives, if not already defined. Taking care of these issues as early as possible allows the person with dementia to participate in decisions, which may not be possible later on.

Learning as much as possible about dementia, putting together a solid care-giving strategy, and accessing suitable resources, support groups, and potential long-term care options will help family members and loved ones be prepared and reduce stress.

Researchers have worked to understand the physical, emotional, and financial demands placed on family members and caregivers of people with dementia. It is critical for caregivers to have a stable support system in place and to take care of their own health needs through exercise, rest, and healthy eating.