What is Dementia?Surprisingly, dementia is not classified as an actual condition. Rather, it’s an umbrella term that refers to a number of symptoms of abnormal cognitive decline. While memory loss is common in individuals with dementia, changes in memory are caused by other underlying diseases. So a person who has memory issues doesn’t necessarily have dementia. While age-related memory loss is a normal part of getting older, memory loss related to dementia is not normal. In fact, the brain cell damage associated with dementia is significant enough to negatively impact a person’s ability to function. This can take the form of short-term memory loss, difficulty in thought organization and even personality changes.
What Causes Dementia?Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of cases. In dementia caused by Alzheimer’s Disease, excess proteins inside and outside brain cells impact those cells’ ability to communicate. Cell death eventually occurs, leading to compromised function in that area of the brain. Dementia can also be caused by traumatic brain injuries, vascular disorders and diseases like HIV. Treatment options for dementia vary depending on the symptoms’ underlying cause. Some forms of dementia can be treated using occupational therapy or medications that strengthen cognition. Dementia caused by thyroid malfunction, excessive alcohol consumption, or medication usage can even be reversed. Lewy body dementia is the third most common cause of dementia, and is the second most progressive form of the disease. It is caused by the formation of Lewy bodies in the nerve cells in the brain. In the majority of dementia cases, symptoms worsen over time.
Symptoms of DementiaWhile dementia is common, it is not a normal part of aging. The most common symptoms of dementia are:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty with problem-solving or planning
- Decreased motor function
- Decreased coordination
- Difficulty organizing or executing complex tasks
- Decreased ability to pay attention
- Increased agitation or irritability
- Depressive symptoms, lack of interest in normal hobbies or activities
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?Alzheimer’s Disease–a type of dementia–is an irreversible disorder of the brain that slowly destroys cognitive function. The disease gets worse over time, and cannot be cured. Alzheimer’s primarily affects people over the age of 65. When the disease is diagnosed in an individual younger than 65, it is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The causes of early onset AD are similar to those of later-onset cases. However, many researchers believe genetics play a bigger role in early-onset cases.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?One of the key contributors to Alzheimer’s Disease is the formation beta amyloid plaques between nerve cells in the brain. Beta amyloids are fragments of a bigger protein called amyloid precursor protein. In a healthy brain, these beta amyloid fragments are broken down and eliminated from the body. In the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s, however, the proteins stick together and create hard plaques. These plaques disrupt normal cellular function in the brain, causing inflammation and eventual cell death. As the brain cells die, cognitive function is diminished. Memory loss is a key side effect of Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline.
What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?Alzheimer’s Disease is characterized by number of symptoms and side effects:
- Losing things
- Forgetting recently learned information
- Struggling to find words during conversation
- Increased anxiety
- Increased irritability
- Increased aggression
- Issues paying bills or managing money
- Getting lost, especially in familiar places
- Mood swings or personality fluctuations
- Noticeably short attention span
Care for People with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia in ArkansasIt can be overwhelming for family members to provide the specialized care a person with memory problems needs. In response to this need for specialized care, many assisted living facilities have expanded to include memory care units. Memory care units are staffed by healthcare providers who are trained in caring for people with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. These facilities are closely regulated and must uphold the facility standards outlined by their state. In Arkansas, facilities that specialize in memory care are classified as Level II Assisted Living facilities. Within those facilities, memory care wings are known as Alzheimer’s Special Care Units (ASCUs). These units offer specialized care and treatment for people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementia.
Arkansas Alzheimer’s Special Care UnitsIn Arkansas, ASCUs are required to perform a physical and psychosocial assessment of each new resident. This information helps the facility staff offer care that meets the resident’s unique needs. Arkansas ASCUs are required to have certain design features, including :
- A floor plan that does not require visitors or staff to travel through the memory care unit to get to other parts of the facility
- A common space that can be used for dining, family visits or other activities
- Outdoor spaces and walkways that can be secured so that residents remain under the supervision of facility staff
- Contrasting colors of doors, walls and ceilings in areas of residential use
- Minimized design and detail on exterior doors, access halls, elevators, and emergency exits
- ASCUs must be built so that residents can freely enter and leave their own residential areas
- Residents must be able to freely access common areas
- Common areas, hallways and passageways must be free of obstructions that can cause tripping’
- Residential rooms must be designed so that residents can identify their own space
- Residential rooms must have non-reflective floors, ceilings and walls to minimize glare and harsh, irritating lighting