By Molly Wisniewski United States
Dementia is a complex term that is often given as a general diagnosis for any decline in a person's cognitive ability. Dementia is not a disease, but rather a group of symptoms that associate to memory loss and cognitive decline.
Because so many people in care homes have dementia, many will assume that all the residents in need of care have dementia. However, this is not always the case, and leads to several common myths and misconceptions about dementia.
Many people think that there is no difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease and will often reference the two interchangeably. Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia and is the most common form of dementia, which is why there is a misconception.
Dementia is not a disease but rather a group of symptoms and Alzheimer's is categorized as a disease. A good way to separate the two is to say, "Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia."
Since Dementia is commonly the only diagnosis seen listed in a resident's chart, it is assumed that everyone with dementia has the same symptoms or the same type of dementia. This is far from the truth and in fact, symptoms of dementia are unique to each resident.
The most common types of dementia are:
Each of these diagnosis's have their own distinct set of needs. Approaches to the way we deliver care will require adjustment based on individual assessment.
Old age has several of its own set of myths and misconceptions, one of them being that everyone that grows old will lose their memory.
Popular phrases like, "I'm having a senior moment" or "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" promote offensive stereotypes of what it means to grow old and have left many people thinking that dementia symptoms are a normal part of aging.
They are not! While yes, dementia is common in older adults, it doesn't mean everyone will or should receive a diagnosis of dementia. This persistent stereotype runs the risk of giving an early diagnosis of dementia to a person merely by associating a person's symptoms to their age.
Older adults who require assistance in their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are sometimes referenced as being a lot like children. Even if we can find similarities in the provision of care, it doesn't mean that residents should be treated like children.
One way to alter this perception is to change the words we use. For instance, at mealtimes, residents who need assistance in feeding are regularly told to put on their bibs. Instead of using the word bibs, closely associated with a feeding tool for babies, reference them as ‘clothing protectors'.
As Activity Professionals, it is important that no matter the functioning level of the resident, we provide them with activities that are respectful and that are dignified. Coloring is a popular activity for residents, which offers several benefits like reducing stress. Choosing age-appropriate images is important in this activity.
Related: Coloring Book for Seniors
Have you ever noticed a family member or staff person talk about or answer for a resident while they are sitting right there?
Not every resident can answer for themselves, and those who can't will, of course, need assistance in communicating. However, what often ends up happening, particularly to residents who are further along in their dementia, is that people will begin to speak for them.
While this comes from a good place, it can quickly take the independence away from the resident. Even residents with advanced dementia can often make decisions if we change our approach to communication and give them more opportunities to understand what we are asking.
Making decisions or speaking for them might make everything easier, but it does take away from their autonomy, Where possible, all residents should be given the chance to speak for themselves.