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What is Dementia?

Can you remember what you ate for dinner last Monday? If you can, that’s great! But don’t worry if you can’t remember because we all forget things. If forgetting something doesn’t affect your life -- like what food you ate for dinner -- it doesn’t matter.

Forgetting things is called memory loss. When memory loss starts to affect a person’s life, it can be a problem. He or she may have dementia. Dementia is a loss of mental or thinking skills. It is not a normal part of getting older.

Dementia can cause problems with how well people can think and plan. For example, a person misses appointments or can’t remember to take prescriptions. People also get easily confused.

Usually dementia gets worse over time, but how long this takes is different for each person. Some people stay the same for years. Others lose their memory quickly. As people age, their chances of having dementia rise; however, this doesn't mean that everyone will get dementia.

Many residents in nursing homes have some form of dementia. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. However, everyone with dementia does not have Alzheimer’s disease.

Knowing how to care for people with dementia is important. Here are some tips for helping people who have dementia:

  • Do not leave confused people alone. This could be dangerous.

  • Stay calm. Provide a quiet environment. This helps calm people who may be confused.

  • Speak in a lower tone of voice. Do not raise your voice. It is easier for people to hear low-pitched sounds.

  • Speak clearly and slowly. Explain procedures with simple words. Encourage residents to use their glasses and hearing aids so that they can see people and hear clearly.

  • Be patient and do not rush the resident. People with dementia need more time to process information.

  • Introduce yourself each time you see the person. Residents will feel more reassured when they know people are there to help.

  • Remind residents of where they are, their names, and the date. Talk about plans for the day. This helps trigger memories.

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© 2015 by Southwest Adult Basic Education

Project made financially possible through grants from:

Southwest Initiative Foundation, Marshall Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Transition Partners, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Marshall Healthcare Partners