Psychiatry

How can we help someone in our family who has Alzheimer’s or dementia?

It’s important not to try to reason with them or argue or confront them. Don’t frequently question their memory with “do you remember?” Their psychiatrist can help guide you and give you helpful handouts as well as the Alzheimer’s Association. Just treat them with loving kindness and respect. You want to ensure dignity and as much autonomy as possible. Above all, safety is paramount. You may have to have their driving privileges revoked, and at later stages, they may need someone with them at all times to help prevent wandering off. It is so important for the caregiver to practice good self-care. Arrange breaks for yourself, do enjoyable things, sleep and eat well. Ask their provider about resources for help. Consult a professional if you experience depression yourself — it’s a stressful time.

Isn’t depression to be expected in the person with dementia or those who are aging?

No. Depression is a serious medical illness and is not the same as feeling sad over an event or loss. It lasts at least 2 weeks, and in the elderly, is a very dangerous illness that needs to be addressed with a specialist in geriatric medicine or a psychiatrist. The person may become medically compromised with a decrease in appetite, weight loss, sleep disturbance and can even develop delusions. Delusions are fixed thoughts and beliefs that are out of touch with reality. There are effective treatments with medications and certain therapies that can be lifesaving.

What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Dementia isn’t a specific disease. Instead, “dementia” describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. There can be difficulties with everyday tasks, problem solving, speech, motor function, delusions, hallucinations and personality changes. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease and a type of dementia — the most common type. Other types of dementia are Vascular dementia, Lewy bodies dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia, Frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia (more than one type).