Dementia: What your CNA should Know

The numbers are staggering . For every 15 Americans (age 71 and older), two of them have been diagnosed with dementia. And, worldwide , at least 35 million people live with dementia. This number is expected to increase to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050! With theese statistics , it is more important than ever for nursing assistants to be armed with information about dementia.

These are some of the basics you can share with your CNA :

What is Dementia ?

When you hear the word “dementia”, you probably think of Alzheimer’s disease. And, it’s true. Alzheimer’s disease is Edione of the forms of dementia. However, there are many other forms of dementia.

So what is dementia ? It is a slow, progressive loss of mental functions, including: memory, thinking, judgment and the ability to learn. Dementia is not considered a disease by itself. Rather, it is a syndrome-or group of symptoms- which are caused by various diseases. The dementia symptons are often severe enough to keep people from performing normal daily activities .

In the United States, an estimated 5 million people have dementia . The risk of dementia increases with age and most people affected by dementia are over the age of 65 . Does it mean that everyone over the age of 65 will get it ? Absolutely not ! An interesting fact: more that half of all people over age 100 do not have dementia.

It’s true that the brain undergoes changes as people get older . But these normal age-related changes, such as a decrease in both short-term memory and the ability to learn, do not affect a person’s ability to function. Dementia does.

What are the causes of Dementia ?

There are multiple causes of dementia, including:

  • Diseases that affect the nerve cells in the brain, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Pick’s disease.
  • Vascular disorders such as a stroke.
  • Toxic reactions from excessive alcohol or drug use.
  • Brain tumors.
  • A lack of specific nutrients in the diet, such as vitamin B12 and folate.
  • Infections that affect the brain and spinal cord.
  • Head Injuris and Traumas .
  • Radiation therapy to the head.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Chronic kidney deceases , liver or lungs.

If Your Client Has Dementia…

Focus on strengths! Most cases of dementia inevitably cause decline of a person’s memory, intellect and personality- which becomes evident in the middle to late stages of the disease. in the early stages of dementia, it is especially important to focus on the person’s remaining strengths…and not on what he or she is losing. For example, Mr. Smith has trouble remembering what he hears, but does quite well with visual cues. So, his aide put simple written instructions and pictures on the walls of Mr. Smith’s living area.

Stimulate, don’t overwhelm. it is important to keep in mind the fine line between stimulating people and overwhelming them . Learn each clients limits and be mindful of them . For example, Mr. Green may become agitated by all the sights and sounds after a ten minute walk, but Mrs. Hall is perfectly content to observe her neighbours for over an hour.

Last in, first out! For most people with dementia, the things they learned most recently are the most easily forgotten.  Allow your clients to focus on what they do remember.

Childlike, not childish. Clients with moderate to severe dementia may lose the ability to care for themselves. Like little children , they need help with eating, dressing, walking and toileting . But, remember , just because some of their needs and behaviors may be childlike, they are not children. Be sure to treat them as adults; don’t patronize or “talk down” to them.

Personality Plus! Typically, dementia tends to exaggerate personality traits that already existed In some cases dementia exhagerates personality traits  that are already present. For example, someone who was bossy in his younger years may be completely domineering due to dementia. Or, dementia may make a person who was always tidy become obsessed with neatness.

Ten Warning Signs of Dementia

Keep these ten warning signs in mind as you go through your work day-especially if you care for a number of elderly clients . Don’t hesitate to report to your supervisor if you see your clients developing these signs . Your observations may help them receive an early diagnosis-and treatment- for dementia.

  • Loss of Memory
  • Problems performing everyday jobs
  • Difficulty with language
  • Confusion about time and place
  • Poor or impaired judgment
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Misplacing items
  • Noticable changes in behaviour or mood
  • Changes in personality
  • A loss of initiative

Keep in mind that depression, side effects of medication and alcohol abuse are among the problems that can mimic dementia.