How many times have you had to turn your car around because you forgot your wallet. Or how many times have you had to remind your mother that her doctor’s appointment is Tuesday, not Thursday. As we get older so do our brains. It is normal to become more forgetful as we age, but when does slight confusion become something more dangerous? With humans living longer and longer, diseases such as Alzheimer’s are becoming more common. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are over 5.7 million Americans living with this disease. Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia other factors such as heart disease and strokes can cause this as well.
Dementia is not a disease in itself. Instead, it is a cluster of symptoms. These symptoms vary from person to person however, the defining symptom is a gradual decline of brain function. This may begin with some increased confusion, your grandmother may forget where she left her recipe book even if it has never been moved. A year later you may realize that grandma has been eating expired food unknowingly. Eventually your grandmother will need help performing basic tasks such as brushing teeth, as her mind has forgotten how to. Although this memory loss is the most common and prevalent symptom, many sufferers also have personality changes that can cause a complete change of character. These changes can cause a nun to curse like a sailor, or a sailor to become a quiet, docile man. Behavioral symptoms can also change the normal behavior from a person with dementia. These symptoms range from hallucinations (sensing things that are not there), delusions (believing things that are not true), depression, anxiety, and agitation.
In reality however, those with dementia are unable to simply ‘snap’ out of their confusion. It is possible for these people to have moments of clarity, but these are far and few inbetween. Expecting that by reminding them of past memories will lead to curing or even pausing their confusion will lead to a lot of heartbreak.
Although The Notebook is one of the most popular movies with dementia as a theme, Still Alice is 2015 movie that shows the struggles of living with early-onset dementia. This movie accurately shows the physical and emotional toll that this disease can cause on a person. This clip is an accurate demonstration of what living with dementia is like.
Alice is shown talking to her husband. Initially we notice that she confuses herself and her daughter as her mother and sister. This is very common among many of those with dementia as they may think they are much younger than they are because their long term memory is more intact then their short term. The major event in this clip however is Alice getting lost in her home. This shows the extent to which memory loss occurs. Alice becomes so anxious over not being able to find the bathroom in her own home that she eventually messes herself. This heartbreaking scenario is life for many with dementia.
Although there is no cure for dementia, there are medications available that can help slow the progression of the disease. Early detection is crucial in order to help your loved ones. The biggest sign to look out for is memory loss that impacts their daily life. If your grandmother forgets your birthday, it is probably age-related confusion. However, if your grandmother wishes you a “Happy fifth birthday!” there is a chance it could be dementia related.
This video shows an accurate depiction of an early sign of Alzheimer’s. The mother is fixated on the purple scarf and can not sleep because she does not remember where it came from. Episodes like this become increasingly more common and more dangerous and the dementia progresses.
If someone you know is showing the warning signs of dementia, please urge them to get tested by a trained doctor. Early detection and treatment can lead to extra years of memory and health. If you need more resources please visit The Alzheimer’s Association at: https://www.alz.org/
Alzheimer’s FACTSHEET. (2013). Senior Market Advisor, 14(11), 30–31.
Backhouse, T., Killett, A., Penhale, B., Burns, D., & Gray, R. (2014). Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia and their management in care homes within the East of England: a postal survey. Aging & Mental Health, 18(2), 187–193.
Facts and Figures. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/