By: Leslie Mantrone
Dementia is an incurable brain disease, and it’s one that, when it affects your family, can change everyone’s life. Unfortunately, it’s a disease many people don’t know a lot about — until they find their loved ones facing it.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia by far and is generally characterized by a long, slow decline in memory and functioning. Approximately 80 percent of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s.
The other major types of dementia are vascular dementia, which causes cognitive decline and poor judgment, as well as dementia with Lewy bodies, which affects people’s cognitive and physical functioning, often resulting in a characteristic “shuffling” gait.
The progression of a person with dementia goes from mild to moderate to advanced. A person with Mild Dementia often knows that they forget things or that they are not functioning the way they used to. A person with mild dementia can experience forgetfulness, irritability, confusion and difficulty communicating.
Someone who has progressed to Moderate dementia experiences the same things as someone with mild dementia, but more profoundly and for prolonged periods of time. People with moderate dementia may also experience delusions or hallucinations, depending on the parts of the brain affected by their dementia. For example, someone with moderate dementia may or may not know the day, week or year (known as “orientation to time”) and may or may not be aware of where they are (known as “orientation to place”) and may or may not know who others are (known as “orientation to person”).
Someone with Advanced Dementia usually is not oriented at all and cannot care for themselves. They may also forget how to do simple things like lift a spoon to their mouth and, at a very late stage, forget how to do things such as swallowing.
There are plenty of online resources that are appropriate for people in different stages of dementia:
Mild dementia: Individuals with early-stage dementia may enjoy simplified versions of activities they have always enjoyed, such as puzzles, word puzzles, games or coloring.
Moderate dementia: Individuals with more progressed dementia benefit from activities that utilize visuals and music while not requiring manual dexterity or memory. Here are some examples of both online and “offline” activities:
Advanced dementia: Individuals in the advanced stage of dementia are not capable of much interaction with people or their surroundings. It is helpful to keep their environment calm and low-key as much as possible. Playing music they are known to like, including music from their youth, is an effective way to help these individuals retain a quality of life. Headphones can also be useful, but it is important to ensure that the volume is kept at a reasonable level — headphones may not be appropriate for individuals with hearing aids, however. Devising bespoke playlists for the person can be a rewarding way for family and friends to connect with their loved one at this stage of their disease.