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What is Dementia?

Marge’s husband, George, would call for her and she would come running. But when she came into the room he would say, “Who are you? I want Marge!” She would say, “It is me, George,” and he would reply, “But you’re an old woman, I want my wife, Marge.” This was devastating for Marge. George couldn’t remember the recent times and what his wife now looked like as an older woman. All he could remember was his young bride.

Later, after George’s death, Marge was able to laugh about how silly it was. George would wake up in bed next to his wife and call for “Marge” wondering why an old woman was in the bed with him. You had to either cry or laugh about it.

George had some sort of Dementia. Probably it was Alzheimer’s Disease; a common form. But there are many types of Dementia and not everyone with memory or cognitive issues has Alzheimer’s. Dementias are classified in various ways. Most are grouped by common symptoms or the part of the brain that is affected.

Types of Dementia include: Alzheimer’s, Vascular, Lewy Body, Huntington’s, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob. Those are “primary” dementias where the disease affects the brain directly. Other medical conditions can create “secondary” dementia. These include Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and ALS.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of disease and the area of the brain that is affected. Memory loss, especially short-term, is the most common symptom. Other symptoms include: having difficulty recalling recent events; not recognizing familiar people or places; having trouble finding the right words; difficulty performing calculations; problems planning out tasks; trouble exercising judgment; depression, agitation and aggression; and failure to maintain personal grooming.

Lewy Body Dementia victims often have highly detailed visual hallucinations. Those with Frontotemporal Dementia may have personality changes or unusual behavior, including behaving rudely or engaging in improper sexual behavior. Vascular dementia can create short-term confusion.

Some types of dementia have no known cure. Others respond well to treatment. If a loved-one is diagnosed with dementia, be sure to insist on a detailed and accurate diagnosis so proper treatment can be provided. Many times elders are just shunted off to a nursing home after a quick “diagnosis” of dementia. You wouldn’t want that done to you, so insist on a clear and accurate diagnosis.

Remember that Dementia is not just an part of ordinary aging. It is a medical condition that requires treatment and perhaps care for the elder. If you see any of the above symptoms (or other unexplained behaviors) in your loved-one, seek medical treatment and work on a care plan so your family member gets the care and assistance they need. You will want to consult with an Elder Law Attorney, with your loved-one’s financial advisor, with a Professional Care Manager, and with the doctors. You should even consider having a discussion about these issues now, before your loved-one even shows the symptoms of dementia.