New Webinar Series Explores Dementia

My other half and I tease each other lightheartedly about getting old. As a couple in our mid-40’s, the idea of aging is growing on us. So we jokingly attribute the occasional forgetfulness to getting old.

The common teasing occurs after walking into a room and forgetting why we’re there. Or most recently, having to turn around while half way to a going away party to get a forgotten gift, only to discover it was sitting in the backseat after we pulled into the garage.

It is instances like these that bring out the lighthearted, “You’re getting old” comment. But for many aging Americans, being forgetful could be a sign that something else is going on. Like the beginning phase of dementia.

Dementia is defined as a global impairment of the brain’s function that affects memory, physical movement, problem-solving capabilities, social skills and emotional responses. A common type of dementia affecting an estimated 5.4 million U.S. adults is Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative brain disorder.

The On-Demand Learning six-part Web series, “Dementia and Antipsychotics in the Long Term Care Setting: A Quality Improvement Initiative”, explores the various aspects of dementia, the use of antipsychotic drugs and behavioral issues that arise as a person’s cognitive skills begin to fade. The series is a collaborative effort between Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Center for Quality Aging and Qsource.

In Session 2: Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia, Dr. Paul Newhouse examines the characteristics and behavioral disturbances caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Newhouse is the Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Cognitive Medicine.

For most people who develop Alzheimer’s disease, the signs are present about two years before a diagnosis is made and even then — 72 percent of the time — the diagnosis is often attributed to normal aging, dementia, depression, a stroke or something else. After a diagnosis is made, the focus is on managing the patient’s quality of life, not slowing down the prognosis – this usually means a lifespan of 10 years from being diagnosed to death.

Newhouse emphasizes that early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is important despite the fact that treatment is limited. Identifying specific treatments may slow the underlying disease process while standard treatment may delay nursing home placement when started early. Attention given early on may also slow the conversion from Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.

He clarifies that an early diagnosis can address safety (both for a patient and those affected by the illness) and the stress and misunderstanding that occurs with family (such as guilt, blame and denial). He also points to early education of caregivers on how to handle patients’ daily and long-term care and suggests understanding advanced care planning while a patient is competent can be a preventative measure.

Occasionally forgetting where you put the car keys or parked the car in a crowded parking lot is common when getting older. But when a person’s personality or behavior changes, thoughts become jumbled and it becomes difficult to convey information clearly, it’s more than just old age. It could be signs of a more serious problem.

So the next time a patient tells you they forgot their medication (repeatedly) or a family member says “Mom isn’t herself lately,” consider that the episodes may be something more serious than the normal process of aging. To discover more about dementia, I encourage you to view the six-part series.

And make sure to take notes. You wouldn’t want to forget anything!

 

Lynn Maples,  Marketing/Communications Specialist

Lynn is a multiple award-winning marketing/communications professional and former journalist. He has spent more than a decade sharing patient and provider stories on behalf of the Quality Improvement Organization community.