Archive for Sunday, December 29, 2002

Sense for seniors: Many factors can contribute to signs of dementia

December 29, 2002


Some of my friends show signs of confusion. I am concerned that they have Alzheimer's disease. What can and should I do to help them?

When friends or family members appear to be so confused that they need assistance with daily activities, don't automatically assume they have Alzheimer's disease. This level of confusion may also be called dementia.

Dementia is a general term of symptoms applied to several diseases or medical conditions. These symptoms could include a change in an individual's orientation, ability to remember, reasoning and judgment. Ability to learn new information, personality, language skills and a person's perception can also be affected.

There are a number of diseases that can have dementia symptoms, including depression, Parkinson's disease, Pick's disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease, Huntington's disease and Lewy Body disease. Alzheimer's disease is the most common.

There also are medical conditions that can cause dementia symptoms, including but not limited to the following:

  • Medications -- The person could be experiencing an adverse drug reaction to prescribed or over-the-counter medications and supplements.
  • Infections
  • Dehydration -- This could be the result of insufficient fluid intake and/or diarrhea, vomiting or fever.
  • Poor appetite
  • Fluctuating blood sugar
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Loss of hearing or sight
  • Head injuries

Many of these medical conditions can be treated. Encourage your friends or family members to schedule a doctor's appointment. A thorough diagnostic workup is important to determine the causes of the dementia symptoms. The longer treatable medical conditions go unrecognized, the more difficult it is to treat them. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease, there is medical, legal and financial planning that should be initiated immediately.

The manner in which you communicate with those with dementia symptoms is also important to their well-being. The following suggestions will promote effective communication:

  • Treat the confused person as an adult and with respect.
  • Approach in a calm manner.
  • Do not argue or correct.
  • Maintain eye contact when talking with the person.
  • Keep all directions simple, speak slowly, clearly and use short sentences.
  • Do not talk about the person in front of them as if they were not there.
  • Be patient. A person with dementia may take longer to perform daily activities.

-- If you have a question or comment for "Sense for Seniors," write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe 66061. Telephone: (913) 477-8103; e-mail:

Commenting has been disabled for this item.