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Dementia and Stress: Understanding the Confusion

Updated: Mar 7

Confused by the term “dementia”? It seems to get thrown around these days. We often attribute cognitive decline to a natural part of aging, but the reality is more nuanced and it's worth a closer look.

Sometimes cognitive decline and memory loss, the general definition of dementia, stems from temporary stressors on the body and mind like lack of sleep, dehydration, poor nutrition, or prolonged stress. Fortunately, in such cases, cognitive abilities can rebound once the stress is alleviated. (Case in point: myself after a tough night with my now toddler!)


This insight is especially relevant for those of us in middle age who might be grappling with forgetfulness amidst the daily stresses of modern life. (Noted above and so many other examples!)


SO, it's important to realize that while stress isn’t an early sign of dementia per se, it’s worth noting that excessive prolonged stress most certainly DOES significantly impact overall health. Prolonged mental stress has been shown to accelerate the progression of various illnesses and diseases, as we all may have experienced at one time or another. It is NOT something to be taken lightly. It is also not however, an early sign of dementia in and of itself.  So let's not confuse these temporary situations - instead let's aim to prioritize our wellness and do what we can to act in ways that are protective of our wellbeing. To get help with this, health coaches, therapist, wholistic practitioners and/or medical providers should be consulted. (I personally know the benefits such professionals can provide!)


It seems that there is an idea in our culture now-a-days that cognitive deline is an inevitable part of aging. This is not in fact verifiably true. (I've been aware of plenty of people in their 80s, 90s and above that are "sharp as a tack".) I think its more accurate to consider it as a part of a dis-ease process - whether temportary or progressive. Here can cause much confusion and grey area, however.


To plan for and provide appropriate care and support when truly needed in the presence of a progressive dementia disease process, it’s vital to grasp what dementia is.


Let’s explore what dementia entails, dispell misconceptions, and learn to identify its symptoms apart from other stress related symptoms and or what we may think of as "normal aging".


What is Dementia?


Dementia is a syndrome characterized by a decline in cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning, and communication. It’s caused by various diseases and conditions that affect the brain. These conditions progressively impair the individual’s ability to perform daily activities and maintain independence.


The most common types include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • vascular dementia

  • Parkinson’s related dementia

  • Lewy body dementia

  • and mixed dementia

Common Dementia Symptoms:


1. Memory Loss: While forgetting names or appointments occasionally is common with aging, significant memory loss affecting daily life tasks, such as forgetting recent events or repeatedly asking the same questions, is indicative of dementia.


2. Difficulty with Tasks: Aging may slow down cognitive processing, but dementia leads to noticeable challenges in completing familiar tasks, such as cooking, managing finances, or following instructions.


3. Language Problems: Occasional difficulty finding the right word is normal, but individuals with dementia struggle to communicate, often experiencing difficulty in forming coherent sentences or understanding conversations.


4. Changes in Mood and Behavior: While mood fluctuations can occur with aging, dementia can cause drastic changes in personality, mood swings, agitation, or apathy that disrupt daily life.


5. Confusion and Disorientation: Getting momentarily disoriented in unfamiliar surroundings is common, but individuals with dementia may become lost even in familiar places or lose track of time.


How to Support Individuals with Dementia


Understanding the differences between aging and dementia is essential for providing appropriate care and support. Here are some tips for assisting individuals with dementia:


1. Patience and Empathy: Approach interactions with patience and empathy, understanding that cognitive decline can be frustrating for the individual.


2. Establish Routines: Consistency and routine can help individuals with dementia feel more secure and oriented.


3. Effective Communication: Use simple language, speak slowly, and offer visual cues to aid comprehension.


4. Safety Measures: Ensure the environment is safe and secure to prevent accidents and wandering.


5. Seek Professional Help: Consult healthcare professionals for accurate diagnosis, treatment options, and guidance on dementia care.


6. IMPORTANTLY, Don't WAIT to plan ahead: Do NOT underestimate the importance and need for pre planning. Consulting with professionals to help get finances, longterm, estate and end-of-life planning in order is extremely useful. It is never too early to start planning ahead - especially in the presence of a debilitating progressive disease like dementia!


Sunlight Home Care is dedicated to assisting families in navigating the complexities of dementia care, ensuring comfort and dignity for their loved ones throughout their journey.  Our network of referrals in the community can also be a great resource for families. Feel free to contact us for more information.


To inquire about our specialized and personalized services, call us today at 508-202-3482. We will come out and do a FREE needs assessment right away at your convenience.  


Danyel Brisk, Community Liaison

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