Could the Stigma of Dementia Delay Treatment?

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease or other common causes of dementia, treatment options have vastly improved in recent years.  Drugs like donepezil, memantine, and rivastigmine have the potential to improve or delay the progress of symptoms in persons with Alzheimer’s.  But for medications to be most effective, they often must be started early in the course of the disease.

Unfortunately, a study published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine and reported by the Irish website Independent.ie has found that stigma, lack of faith in treatment options, and lack of awareness delayed proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

This finding stresses the importance of acting as an advocate for your residents.  If you identify cognitive or behavioral changes, don’t hesitate to report them to the resident’s physician and remain a strong advocate for the resident’s quality care.

As a reminder, here are Alzheimer’s Association’s “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s”:

1. Memory loss. Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia.  A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later.

What’s normal?  Forgetting names or appointments occasionally.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People with dementia often find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks.  Individuals may lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, placing a telephone call, or playing a game.

What’s normal?  Occasionally forgetting why you came into a room or what you planned to say.

3. Problems with language. People with Alzheimer’s disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand.  They may be unable to find the toothbrush, for example, and instead ask for “that thing for my mouth.”

What’s normal?  Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

4. Disorientation to time and place. People with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost in their own neighborhood, forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home.

What’s normal?  Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going.

5. Poor or decreased judgment. Those with Alzheimer’s may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold.  They may show poor judgment, like giving away large sums of money to telemarketers.

What’s normal?  Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time.

6. Problems with abstract thinking. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex mental tasks, like forgetting what numbers are for and how they should be used.

What’s normal?  Finding it challenging to balance a checkbook.

7. Misplacing things. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places, such as an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

What’s normal?  Misplacing keys or a wallet temporarily.

8. Changes in mood or behavior. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may show rapid mood swings – from calm to tears to anger – for no apparent reason.

What’s normal?  Occasionally feeling sad or moody.

9. Changes in personality. The personalities of people with dementia can change dramatically.  They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful, or dependent on a family member.

What’s normal?  People’s personalities do change somewhat with age.

10. Loss of initiative. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual, or not wanting to do usual activities.

What’s normal?  Sometimes feeling weary of work or social obligations.

If you identify these signs and symptoms in a resident, report them to his/her physician immediately.

Keep in mind that the symptoms can vary from person to person, and can also be influenced by the cause of the dementia.  Although Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause, dementia can also be the result of strokes and other medical conditions.

More information:

The Alzheimer’s Association operates a toll-free helpline: 1.866.ALZ.4199

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