Tuesday, 17 April 2018 08:00

Dementia perception: what is day-to-day life like?

If you’re new to the world of dementia and Alzheimer’s care, you may be wondering what a typical day is like through the eyes of those suffering from either of these neurodegenerative diseases.

Each stage of dementia brings with it a different level of perception and a new set of challenges. Day-to-day life becomes more and more dream-like and complicated depending on the stage of dementia: mild, moderate and severe.

Dementia perception explained

Dementia perception is difficult to understand and can be incredibly frustrating for family members and friends to grasp, most especially if they are not involved in the day-to-day care of a dementia patient. In a bid to help you understand, here are the three stages of dementia perception explained…

1. Mild Dementia

Caregivers who look after loved ones with mild dementia have likened it to living with and caring for a ‘’functional alcoholic’’. While they are by no means an actual alcoholic, their behaviour throughout the day is similar.

Essentially, those with mild dementia are able to achieve day-to-day tasks, though little details are often completely overlooked. This could be something as simple as putting a shirt on backwards or misplacing reading glasses and having absolutely no awareness or memory of it. If questioned about a particular task later in the day, a dementia patient will have no recollection of such task.

Day-to-day for a person with mild dementia is relatively ‘’normal’’ - though just shy of being 100% normal. While routine is simple enough, anything otherwise is a little more difficult and can become quickly overwhelming. By the end of the day most dementia patients are exhausted, their brains tired from the odd, mismatched thoughts thrown up throughout the day. These patients may also have a habit of rummaging through things, re-organising and re-arranging in an effort to recall memory or try and ‘’find something’’. Though when questioned what they’re looking for, they will unlikely be able to tell you.

2. Moderate Dementia

For those with moderate dementia, daily routine is at the heart of everyday life. Moderate dementia patients tend to live moment-to-moment, rather than day-to-day and can be completely thrown by a break in daily routine.

Most moderate dementia patients live from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner and thrive on this kind of schedule. Too much mental stimulation can quickly become overwhelming, even simple activities such as taking a shower can become daunting and off-putting. In fact, a sign that one is moving from mild to moderate dementia is developing an aversion to bathing.

Moderate dementia patients still have an awareness that they have a mental disease and require help with daily tasks, although, at times, they may still express frustration or embarrassment at needing this help. Certain words and parts of vocabulary are lost during this phase, while it may appear that others are speaking a foreign language at times. This can lead to further frustration and being withdrawn. Moderate dementia is typically the longest phase of dementia.

3. Severe Dementia

This state is described as the most dream-like, where there seems to be little difference between being asleep and dreaming and being awake. Enjoyable activities or hobbies become neglected and are no longer a priority for those with severe dementia. Increased amounts of sleep is the first sign that a patient has slipped from moderate to severe dementia.

In this phase, speech becomes highly limited. A patient may have a full thought in their head that they want to express, yet only a word or two can be formulated. Caregivers during this phase learn to discern what their patients are trying to say by the first couple of words, but nothing more.

Recognition of everyday objects, family members and friends becomes severely limited, while engagement is only fleeting, based on a dream-like memory, which a patient is not sure is real or something they saw in a dream. Severe dementia patients live only moment-to-moment, where daily routine becomes unimportant.

While these stages of dementia may sound disheartening, having a better understanding of what a loved one experiences on a day-to-day basis could go a long way to the type of care they receive. Having this understanding is also a great way to prepare yourself and other family members for what’s to come, allowing for patience, empathy and support.

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