Although dementia is often viewed as an “old person’s disorder, its effects ripple down in many directions such as family, caregivers, finances, and the healthcare system, leaving behind many unanswered questions and confusion for all. The purpose of this paper will be to answer some of these questions, so that a better understanding of dementia will be possible.
By doing so through research already performed, articles written on the subject, and information found in books written by experts in the fields of gerontology, developmental disorders (neurological), and dementia specifically, the average reader will be able to define dementia, understand basic concepts and theories of causation, explain the progression of this disorder, and fully appreciate the potential and real effects this disorder has on the individual, caregivers, costs (both for the individual and society), and lastly, learn coping strategies to help all affected make the best out of a debilitating disorder of the brain.
Keywords: dementia, gerontology, neurological, developmental disorders, caregivers DEMENTIA: HOW AND WHOM DOES IT AFFECT? 3 Dementia: How and Whom Does it Affect? Introduction Although dementia is often viewed as an “old person’s” disorder, it affects ripple down in many directions such as to family, caregivers, finances, and the healthcare system, leaving behind many unanswered questions and confusion for all.
Based on research and information reported by experts in many fields, this paper will explore the different aspects surrounding dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s Disease, with the goal of helping the average person to better understand this debilitating disorder, become more familiar with how it affects everyone, and lastly, make available to the reader techniques and strategies that could benefit the afflicted, their caregivers, and medical professionals dealing with patients suffering from dementia. It is safe to say that everyone does, or will, know someone in their lifetime that has dementia.
One reason for this is the rapid growing numbers of elderly as a segment of global population. According to Chop and Robnett (1999): Baby boomers first turned 50 in 1996, and since then, every 7 seconds an American will turn 50 until the year 2014. In addition, growth of the older than 65 cohorts will continue to increase as baby boomers began turning 65 in 2010. It is estimated that y 2030, 22 percent, or 70. 2 million, Americans will be older than the age of 65. Even more astonishing, those over 85 years of age are the fastest growing segment of our population.
They are expected to triple in size between 1986 and 2030, and be nearly seven times larger in 2050 than in 1980! (pp. 2-3) The rapid growth of this age group is not only being seen in America, it is occurring globally. In addition to the baby boomers now becoming “of age”, [quotation marks added] other factors contributing to the larger numbers of elderly, are the advances in the fields of medicine and in technology. It was not too long ago that the average life expectancy was around “45 years of age in 1900”, according to Chop and Robnett (1999), “increasing to 76 years in 990”(p. 48). Because dementia is more commonly diagnosed in the elderly, we will be experiencing an increase in numbers of diagnoses. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a greater percentage of the elderly are being affected by dementia, but more likely that this is a reflection of the greater number of elderly surviving to the age that onset is more likely to occur. This in turn will increase the probability that each of us at some point in our lives will be affected by this disorder, whether it is through a family member, friend, co-worker, or ourselves.
In light of the above, it is more important now than ever, to bring about a greater awareness and understanding to all so that we may better be prepared to meet the needs, at all levels, of this rapidly growing group of our elders. Types and Symptoms of Dementia One of the areas that is of concern, and that research is being aimed at, is the need to find an accurate diagnostic tool(s) that can definitively diagnose dementia in its early 5 stages. As we age, there is a natural decline in many areas of our functioning and/or appearance.
We often see changes in physical capabilities such as balance, strength, and we see changes in our sight, hearing, and general appearance, (hair color, we become shorter, or develop wrinkles). And yes, there are often changes of decline in cognition as we age, changes in comprehension, memory, or clarity of thought. In the past, we thought, as a society, that this was normal aging, all of it. Grandma was senile and that was the way life progressed. As stated earlier, our life expectancy was much shorter and we often did not see the final stages of dementia, therefore we didn’t view the decline in these areas as abnormal.
The early stages of dementia often mimic the natural decline in some people of their senses. With medical advances, and longer life spans, we began to see that some people didn’t experience this deterioration in the same way. Some people live to be 100 and are still alert and in control of all their functions!! So to answer the question, is dementia normal? Should we all be afraid that the longer we live, the less capable we will be in living life? The answer is no. “Progressive severe loss of memory-routinely forgetting conversations or that one ate at a particular restaurant-and impaired thinking abilities are not a normal part of aging.