According to the World Health Organization, there are currently an estimated 50 million people worldwide who are living with dementia. By 2050, this number may triple. However, despite its prevalence, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Instead, it is a chronic syndrome caused by any number of brain illnesses that negatively impact memory, cognitive functioning, and the ability to live life normally. As the majority (80%) of people with dementia are cared for by a family member or professional caregiver in their homes, it is critical to be educated on the causes and symptoms of dementia, as well as the impacts that caregiving may have on your own mental health and wellness.
Senility vs. Alzheimer’s Disease
Though senility is a symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease, not all forms of dementia can be unequivocally labeled Alzheimer’s. Senile dementia is an all encompassing term that describes symptoms of cognitive decline, memory loss, and mental decline. Alzheimer’s disease is just one of several degenerative diseases that can cause symptoms of dementia.
Root Causes and Types
Simply put, dementia is caused by damage or loss of nerve cells in the brain. Some diseases create temporary symptoms of dementia that may be due to vitamin deficiency or negative reactions to medication. These forms of dementia may improve with treatment. Some examples of these disease include Huntington’s disease, traumatic brain injury, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
However, most types of dementia will progress past a point of reversal. Alzheimer’s patients have plaques and tangles in their brains, formed of beta-amyloid and fibrous tangles. These plaques and tangles form clumps that damage healthy neurons. Vascular dementia is caused by a precursor event that damages vessels that supply the brain with blood. Lewy body dementia causes visual hallucinations, problems with focus, and a loss of physical coordination.
Many patients over the age of 80 experience a kind of mixed dementia that results as a combination of causes. A confluence of conditions creates a senility that is not simple to treat.
The Experience of Senility
Aging, under the best circumstances, can be a frustrating process. Hearing-loss, weakened eye-sight, and stiff joints can all make an older person feel like a shadow of their younger selves. However, aging is an unavoidable experience that is shared by all. Elders can commiserate with one another on the irritating truths of aging and poke fun at the young for the inevitable physical decline they will face. However, the lived experience of having dementia is impossible to comprehend for many. Yet, understanding what senile people are going through is key to building empathy and developing best practices for care.
As experienced in these resources, dementia patients face disorientation, confusion, a loss of ability to pay attention or focus, impaired memory and communication skills, and a reduction in visual perception. It is no wonder, then, that many patients also experience increased irritability and anger. Knowing what senility feels like can drastically improve both the experience of the caregiver and the patient.
What Caring for a Senile Family Member Means for You
Caring for older people with dementia is daunting, to say the least. The first step in providing adequate care is educating yourself on the condition. However, you must also think about your own experience of the disease. Caregivers of individuals with dementia are at greater risk for depression, anxiety, and decreased quality of life. As you deepen your understanding of this degenerative illness, take time to practice self-care. Accept support from friends and family and make sure you ask for help when you need it. Avoid withdrawing from friends and make time for yourself outside of your home. Most importantly, be realistic about what the course of the disease means. In other words, success in caring for a person with senile dementia is subjective. The disease is irreversible, so hang on to the good days.
Senility, for both patient and caregiver, can be a frightening diagnosis. However, when you’re armed with the information you need, it doesn’t have to be.