Dementia is a frightening condition that can rob a person of their cognitive abilities. At first, short term memory loss is experienced, but over time, the symptoms progress and interfere with a normal quality of life. Memory loss, difficulty communicating and personality changes are all hallmark symptoms of dementia.

If a loved one has been recently diagnosed with dementia, the diagnosis will cause feelings of uncertainty in both you and your family member. While there is no way to step in front of the condition and prevent it from progressing, there are things you can do to improve the quality of life for you and your loved one.

Dementia is not a specific disease; instead, it’s a group of symptoms that affect a person’s intellectual and social abilities. Symptoms include:

  • Memory loss

  • Trouble communicating

  • Repetitive behaviors

  • Inability to learn new information

  • Difficulty planning and organizing

  • Difficult with coordination

  • Personality changes

  • Inappropriate behavior

  • Inability to reason

  • Paranoia

  • Agitation

  • Hallucinations

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but there is also Parkinson’s, Lewy body and vascular dementias. Each type of dementia has its own unique footprint, but they all involve protein clumps forming on the brain, and this kills the brain tissue little by little.

There are no clear cut tests that diagnose dementia for certain, so doctors will go off a CT scan or MRI that looks for brain lesions. Doctors also assess the patient by looking at their physical condition, their cognitive abilities and their medical history. The first symptom of dementia is memory loss, so if your loved one has been forgetful lately, don’t chalk this up to old age. Getting older does not interfere with the ability to remember information, and the sooner you diagnose a problem, the better you can slow the progression.

Remember that your loved one is probably feeling frustrated, so it’s important to remain calm and have realistic expectations. Use simple words and phrases, ask one question at a time and focus on memories from long ago, which your loved one should be able to remember. As more research is being done on dementia, we are finding that physical activity, a healthy weight and mind-strengthening activities are best at delaying the onset of the symptoms and slowing its progression.