Ask Dr. Julie

Dealing with Dementia…How Can You Help?

It is extremely scary and difficult to watch your loved ones start to forget who you are, who they are and to forget the moments you’ve shared together. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month and this is a personal topic for me because my father is starting to get dementia.

There are many types of dementia, it’s not only Alzheimer’s that can lead to dementia. For my father’s case, there’s a question of maybe multiple minor vascular lesions. If someone has multiple strokes and especially in various specific areas, it’s possible to get dementia from that as well. I won’t go too much in detail about all the various types but there are different versions so if you’re concerned, you should check with your doctor or the doctor of your loved one.

Instead, I’d like to focus this article on what we can do for our loved ones and ourselves as our loved one is developing dementia.

First things first, this is a stressful situation and a scary one, for you and for your loved one. So, get all the emotional and daily support you can get if at all possible. If you are worried you might also get dementia while watching a parent go through it, have your doctor check your health or genetics to get some answers if that’s going to be helpful in you making lifestyle or health changes. If you do not want to know, don’t feel guilty and feel forced into knowing your status unless it’s something you want to know. There is time to find out, don’t feel rushed into it. Some of the common deterrents from finding out are concerns about jobs and also health insurance. So, find out after you’ve done research on this and get to where you feel comfortable. Typically, I encourage knowledge for patients so they can make healthy lifestyle changes but do your research and when you are ready, consult your doctor for help in finding out.

In regards to how you can help your loved one, there are things you can do.

There are medications that can help with the symptoms of dementia and knowing the root cause and type will help your doctor figure out which medications to use to help the symptoms. So a full work up and then based on the likely diagnosis, medications can be prescribed to help with symptoms.

Daily life functioning patterns and habits can also help.

For example, exercise and making sure good sleep is achieved are both important. Obviously safety during exercise is important so make allowances for supervision if needed. In regards to good sleep, a sleep study might be important to see if obstructive sleep apnea is an issue because if it is, then improvement in oxygenation with CPAP machine might help with symptoms also and improve quality of sleep.

For those with vascular or stroke type dementia, control of blood pressure and blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels are all important. I’m working hard with my father about his diet to lower his blood glucose and cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s difficult because he frequently forgets about our lifestyle and medication goals but thankfully, he has support to help him stay on track, in the form of his family members keeping him on track.

Nutrition is a key factor also. People with dementia need to eat nutrient rich foods that are not too processed or sugary. Healthy fats also help with mental cognition support. So ideally, I’d recommend a diet rich in healthy fats like avocadoes, olive oil, and healthy nuts and fish; along with a wide variety of different colored vegetables and whole grains like quinoa and millet. Healthy whole foods like legumes also would be a good idea. If in every meal, there is healthy fat, healthy complex unprocessed whole grains, and healthy proteins found in foods like legumes, nuts and fish, then it’s an ideal meal for those we are concerned about.

Another point is to help your loved one stay social and engage in mentally challenging activities.  Please don’t make the activities be so mentally challenging that it’s frustrating the person with dementia because in earlier stages they are aware and it can be frightening and stressful for them.  Try to keep the social activities to something they say they enjoy with possibly people they know, or at least know as  acquaintances, or keep the new people to a few and have the group mostly be of people they know. In regards to mental activities, television watching doesn’t count. The activities I’m referring to are like sudoku, pattern or number recognition games, reading books, learning new topics or languages or instruments depending on interests, and memory board games or knowledge quiz games. These activities are obviously dependent on the level of functioning in your loved one. If you’re not sure what to do, check with your doctor.

Finally, ask your doctor to check basic vitamin and mineral nutrient levels and also thyroid level. If any are off, ask your doctor to help correct it. This will be helpful in the long term optimization of health of your loved one.

 

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