Dementia – To Hang On Or To Let Go?

During our lives we often find ourselves at crossroads where we need to make important decisions. One of the most difficult decisions that we will have to make is to admit and acknowledge that a spouse, a parent or a friend needs special care and treatment that we ourselves cannot provide. An example of this is when someone close to us is being diagnosed with dementia.
Showing signs of dementia
Symptoms of dementia are caused by changes in brain function. Indicators include the following:

A loss of memory
Being disorientated (places, times dates)
Finding it difficult to communicate
Struggling with complex tasks
Planning and organising skills weaken
A decrease in coordination/motor functions
Personality changes may occur
Neglecting personal hygiene
Mood swings
An inability to reason or think logically
Inappropriate (and embarrassing) behaviour
Paranoia or an abnormal suspiciousness
Agitation (irritable and frustrated).

Reducing your risk
When dementia is suspected, it is important to consult a doctor because in many cases it is caused by another treatable underlying disease. Early diagnosis will enable the family to plan and make important decisions concerning the patient’s future.
Dementia is associated with old age but precautions can be taken to reduce dementia naturally. These include supplementing the diet with omega-3; vitamins E and C, iron, green tea (antioxidants), potassium and magnesium; exercising the brain (crossword puzzles and Sudoku); avoiding stress and finding love and peace. Stress, anxiety and depression increase the risk of dementia. In this regard a person’s religious orientation and depth can be crucial for mental health.
Caring for your loved one with dementia
A person with dementia needs full time care and supervision. They need assistance with daily activities like bathing, dressing and eating. A normal household can become a dangerous place – sharp knives, tools and dangerous medicine and chemicals should be removed, bath and bed safety rails installed, hot water temperatures lowered, locks and alarms fitted to outside doors, and the patient needs to wear some form of identification in case they get lost.
Confusion may be reduced by simplifying the home environment – remove clutter and keep noise levels down. Try not to change daily routine because this might lead to anxiety. In order to improve their mood, dementia patients should be encouraged to continue with exercise and normal leisure activities like crafts, games and music. Also keep in mind that the dementia patient will not be able to handle crisis situations because they will find it difficult to process information.
Finding additional care
By now I’m sure it has become clear that taking care of a dementia patient can be emotionally and physically overwhelming. Support groups might provide emotional support and practical tips. Some communities provide adult day care centres that will look after patients during the day. Professional caregivers should be considered. However most patients will require the services of a full-time nursing home.
A difficult decision
This is one of those decisions where the patient’s wellbeing is your primary concern, but where the family context should be taken into consideration. Partners or spouses are often physically and mentally unable to take on this huge responsibility (due to advanced age or simply not being able to fit it into an existing schedule).
In such cases it will be best to ensure that the patient is well taken care of at a facility that provides specialised care. Your responsibility is to constantly be in touch with the nursing home, visit regularly and take the patient out on short, planned visits. Let go of guilt knowing that you have made the best decision for everyone involved. 
DR DOROTHY DU PLESSIS is a Family and Marriage Counsellor, Parenting Workshop Presenter and part-time lecturer at the ICP. For counselling or enquiries about studies in Christian Psychology call 011 827 7611.