Dementia impacts over 6.5 million people over 65 years in the US. Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, is a very difficult disease, and it often affects everyone in the family, not just the person living with it. But how is dementia different from normal aging? How can you know whether your loved one is simply getting a little forgetful at their age, or whether it’s something more serious?
We sat down with AJ Cipperly, Vice President of Memory Care for The Arbor Company, and asked her if she could share some insights, such as symptoms and warning signs of dementia with us. She also shares some valuable tips on how to make communication and connection with your loved one struggling with the disease easier.
Early Warning Signs of Dementia
As we get older, AJ explains, it’s normal to forget or mix up small things. We may trip up over an appointment we made, or forget to pay a bill on time. These things can happen to anyone, at any age. If we can’t remember things because our lives are so busy or stressful, or our attention wasn’t fully focused, that’s normal and nothing to worry about.
The Hidden Nature of Dementia
AJ points out that dementia can be a sneaky disease. It’s very easy for a person living with dementia to “hide” their issues from their family for some time. This is fairly easy, as long as family members don’t live with them or see them often. People struggling with dementia can still sound fine over the phone, and you may not notice anything off. So, it’s important to visit your loved one regularly to see first-hand how they are coping in their daily lives.
People living with a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, also “don’t look sick.” There are not a lot of visual cues that tell you that there’s something wrong with your loved one. Often, dementia doesn’t show up visually on someone’s face or in their body until the disease is very far progressed already. This hidden nature of dementia leads to family members, “expecting them to still, you know, be able to communicate and understand and do the things that […] that we expect [them to do] when in reality their brains changing. And that's not allowing them to still be able to do the things that they used to do,” AJ explains.
But education of families and caretakers can help, AJ says. If you simply adjust your approach when interacting with someone with dementia, it can make a big difference to their well-being and the connection you’re able to have with them.
Communication Tips When Dealing With Dementia
AJ emphasizes that it’s so important for anyone struggling with dementia to stay connected to their loved ones. Communication helps them to not feel alone. They may be slower or less apt at understanding and expressing their thoughts or feelings, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to communicate with you. Making an effort on your part shows them that you care, and that you genuinely wish to help them understand.
Minimizing Distractions for Them
In order to make the environment for your loved one as ideal and pleasant as possible, AJ suggests small steps and tips to make understanding and connection easier for them.
Overall, AJ stresses, that it’s crucial to be patient, understanding, and compassionate with the person, and about the entire situation. Dementia is no one’s fault, and your loved one is in no way trying to be difficult or a burden. AJ clarifies, “people living with dementia are doing the best they can. […] They have this brain that's changing.”
By using some of the communication and connection tips AJ shared, and by adapting your approach a little, she says, it can really make a big difference for everyone involved, and most importantly help your loved one with dementia cope easier and experience greater well-being and joy.
Watch the video to see AJ’s full interview and hear all of her insights:
Do you have more questions about dementia, or how we at Arbor Terrace Lakeway build and structure our memory care programs? Feel free to give us a call at 512-605-1706. Our highly-trained staff would be more than happy to help advise you on your family’s or loved one’s situation.
Are you interested in touring our memory care community live? Schedule a free tour here, and talk to our community’s staff directly!