There are many methods to make life of people with dementia a bit easier by following some simple steps, says Pritha Banerjee
He walks on the same road every day to return home from office. Suddenly, not only he forgot his address but also the roads he walks every day. Jatin, 51-year-old, has nothing, but very early stage of Dementia, according to Dr Shirish Hastak. Dementia is one of the most common brain diseases that cause a long-term decrease of the ability of a person to think that affects his/her day-to-day activity. This change is often gradual and people ignore them until it is too late. Dr Hastak, Neurologist at Wockhardt Hospital, says, “There are many types of Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common one that makes up for at least 70% of the cases that we treat. There are many more which includes vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.”
As memory loss is a very common thing during old age, a lot of people ignore the early signs of Dementia. Seema, psychological counselor at Oasis old age home for assisting living, says, “Most of the patients here are at a very advance stage of Dementia. We can’t cure them completely but we make sure that they don’t lose the rest of their memory. If diagnosed at an early stage it is easier for us to treat the patients and family members can easily take care of them.”
Lots of love and care
Though memory loss is a classic example of dementia symptom, frontotemporal dementia cause changes in personality than memory loss. “One fine day, you might find that your grandmother is acting different. Sometimes, it is difficult for the family member to deal with the change especially when they are used to a particular kind of behaviour from them. It is important to understand that it is the disease that makes them lost and confused but your loved ones are still in there,” says Dr Hastak.
“As most of the patients are attention seeker and they need to be taken care of like a child,” says Seema. It is very important that the caregiver empathize with the patient. “You have to think like this, if you suddenly find yourself disoriented in an unfamiliar place, not even sure of the year or even your own identity. How would you like to be treated?” she asks.
It is better for a person with dementia to stay in a place they are familiar with, most likely, their home, as that would help trigger the memory. “You should send a patient to an assisted living center when it is absolutely necessary because staying home among people they know is much warm and comfortable for a patient,” says Dr Hastak.
Patients staying at the assisted living center are engaged in lots of activities throughout the day. Seema claims, “The patients who are staying with us were professors, engineers, and doctors. But now they don’t remember who they are and can’t even recognise their family members. We try to make them recall their names and alphabets. Activities are done individually and it varies for each patient.”
The activities makes sure that it stir memories, foster emotional connection of the patient with others, encourages self-expression, less the anxiety caused by the disease and make them feel more engaged with life. “Just like how a child is taught how to read or write, we have to teach them. Arts and crafts can help stimulate the brain cells. We have gardens at our facility and we encourage the patients, who can walk, to stroll in the garden,” says Seema.
Most of the researchers studying brain activities and how to take care of patients with dementia, believe that art can be extremely beneficial and rewarding. The creative expression of these people for some reason always remains intact. However, it is advised that while doing activities such as painting or knitting we keep the tools and patterns simple. They need to be under the supervision of a caregiver all the time.
Though art is a better outlet for patients with dementia, music is good as well. Music is associated with human emotions. It has the ability to take us to another place and time. “I have seen patients remembering a lot of things when they hear music that they have heard before,” says Seema. Music is represented throughout the brain and not just one localised area. It represents emotion, movement, language, and vision and it connects to the neuron as an instrument of healing. “We have seen patients responding better when they are exposed to a type of music,” claims Dr Hastak.
Music therapy is a very old practice and until now it did not hold much credibility within modern science. However, nowadays, it has become a focal point among cognitive neuroscientists.
An individual who has got musical training as children shows a greater verbal memory, and reading ability. Based on the duration of practice and intensity the structural and functional adaptation of the brain works, and it provides a foundation for other skills. “For dementia patients they improve mood, reduce agitation, improve social interaction, influence motor skills, and facilitate cognition. Reducing agitation is a very important factor for these patients,” says Seema.
Dementia often makes people feel vulnerable and in need of reassurance and support as they find their mental abilities are declining. According to the Alzheimer’s society of UK, leading an active lifestyle can have a significant impact on the well-being of a person with dementia. Daily exercise is beneficial for both mental and physical health of a person. “It improves the quality of life for these patients who are suffering from dementia. The daily activities can include walking, gardening or dancing even sports can improve fitness,” avers Seema.
Finally, it is important to understand that as our life expectancy is increasing these kinds of brain diseases are becoming normal. It happens to everyone after a certain age when the brain activity starts declining. Thus, leading an active lifestyle, for example, not retiring early, meditation and reducing stress will help us deal with dementia in a better way.