About Dementia: The Silent Epidemic
Despite the notable dips in life expectancy in the United States in recent years, humans’ overall life expectancy is up. A hundred years ago, life expectancy in the U.S. was 48.3 for men and 51.1 for women. That is, of course, factoring in the exceedingly high rate of infant mortality people experienced back then.
Today, most people live well beyond childhood, their childbearing years, and even retirement. With this uptick in life expectancy has come an uptick in age-related illnesses. This makes it important that you do your research about dementia well.
What Is Dementia?
Part of the problem with treating and even diagnosing dementia is that it is not just a single condition with a single cause. The three most common forms of dementia are Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to tell which kind of dementia a patient has until after death when the brain can be examined.
Common warning signs of dementia include:
- Memory impairment
- Difficulty with speech and communication
- Loss of focus or attention
- Decreased vision
- Poor judgment
- Decreased reasoning skills
Dementia Is Incredibly Common
Between the ages of 65 and 74, your chance of developing dementia is only 3%. Once you make it to 75, your chances increase dramatically. That’s 17% between 75 and 84 years of age. When you hit 85, your chance of developing dementia jumps to a staggering 32%.
There are currently at least ten different known forms of dementia and post-mortem studies suggest that only 49% of diagnoses are correct. To make matters worse, any form of treatment is incredibly complicated, thanks to the blood-brain barrier which keeps foreign objects and organisms out of the brain.
New treatments seek to circumvent this issue using ultrasound technology. For now, making patients and their families as comfortable as possible is the greatest concern.
We Need Better Dementia Care Now
If we can’t cure or even treat dementia effectively, then we should exert more effort in making sure that patients can live a life as dignified as possible. We all know that dementia care is expensive. One study found that it was 80% more expensive than caring for someone with cancer.
Unfortunately, many people don’t plan for their life once they become older. This can leave loved ones scrambling to figure out how to care for them with a limited budget. The most basic care can cost $70,000 per year.
Higher quality care can lead to better patient outcomes for dementia patients. Choosing a facility with a lot of green space and residences that appear normal can encourage independent behavior. Those green spaces can even cut down aggression, a natural reaction of a dementia patient when he can’t make sense of the world around him.
Making the patient’s surroundings as familiar as possible can also cut down on confusion and make them feel more at home. Some nursing homes even make their patients’ door look like the ones they have at home.
A nursing home in Germany did something ingenious to help their residents who suffer from dementia. They carefully studied patients who tried to run away and realized one very important thing: they all headed to the bus stop first.
Their solution was to build a fake bus stop in front of the nursing home so that when a patient couldn’t be persuaded not to leave, they would have a place to go and calm down. Oftentimes, staff would accompany them to the bus stop and escort them back into the building.
Humane Treatment Is Imperative
Dementia has to be a very frustrating experience for a patient. Could you imagine literally being locked up in your old age? Encouraging greater independence and trying to give the patient something familiar to cling to are very important steps toward giving dementia patients greater peace of mind.