Simply getting older puts many of us at risk for developing new illnesses or chronic health conditions, so it’s not surprising that older adults with dementia often have one or more other chronic diseases that significantly impact their health-related quality of life (HRQoL).
Diagnosing and treating coexisting conditions, however, can be difficult. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can limit one’s ability to effectively express their discomfort – or even the presence of pain – which increases the risk of comorbidities such as hypertension and diabetes going undiagnosed.
If a coexisting condition is diagnosed, dementia may interfere with the person’s ability to manage their medications as prescribed or recognize possible adverse effects of the treatment. Allowed to progress without proper or regular treatment, what might start as a minor health issue could increase the risk of other serious health conditions, like stroke.
The stroke-dementia relationship can be a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Undiagnosed diabetes, hypertension and other vascular diseases that restrict oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain can increase Alzheimer’s patients’ risk of stroke – and stroke can cause vascular dementia. In fact, it’s common for vascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease to coexist.
In the United States, more than 5.8 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s and, in a 2015 article, the Alzheimer’s Association reported that half of the people with Alzheimer’s disease had evidence of stroke in their brains. Some strokes don’t cause any noticeable symptoms at the time of occurrence, but it’s important to note that these “silent strokes” still increase dementia risk.
Stroke and Vascular Dementia Risk Factors
• Abnormal aging of blood vessels
• High “bad” (LDL) cholesterol
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes (high glucose levels damage blood vessels)
• Atrial fibrillation (blood clots formed by this abnormal heart rhythm can break off and enter the brain blood vessels)
VISION & HEARING LOSS
Some dementia symptoms mirror side effects of normal aging. For example, vision or hearing loss may cause someone to become disoriented, have trouble following a conversation, or lead to increased social isolation, loss of independence and difficulty participating in everyday activities – just as memory loss does.
If the person has vision or hearing loss, it can make diagnosing dementia more difficult. Their impaired senses may skew their dementia assessment results, making their cognitive decline seem more advanced than it is. Conversely, their sight or hearing loss may be used as a cover to hide their cognitive decline from family and friends.
These are both very good reasons for older adults to have regular hearing and vision tests. Ask your doctor to refer you or your loved one to specialists who are experienced in adapting tests for people who may have dementia.
Reliable eyesight requires healthy eyes and a healthy brain. When dementia damages the brain’s vision receptors, the person experiences an altered perception of reality. This can trigger anxiety and challenging behaviors and increase the risk of falls and other injuries.
6 Common Visual Deficits Related to Alzheimer’s Disease:
1. Reduced ability to detect motion. Some people with dementia perceive the world as a series of still photos, rather than an ongoing video. Following a moving object can be difficult.
2. Depth perception. This affects the ability to judge distances and distinguish between a three-dimensional object and a flat picture. The person may try to pick up the flowers on a floral fabric or step up when they come to a border on a carpet.
3. Reduced peripheral vision. Dementia can narrow fields of vision dramatically.
4. Contrast sensitivity. A person with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty finding a white toilet in a bathroom with a white floor and walls.
5. Illusions. A shiny floor may be perceived as a wet surface or a face may appear in a patterned curtain.
6. Misperceptions. A shadow on the carpet could be mistaken for a hole in the floor or reflections in a mirror can be mistaken for an intruder.
Vision Loss & Dementia: How You Can Help
A few tips for improving day-to-day safety, comfort and functionality for someone living with both sight loss and dementia include:
• Good eye care. Make the most of the person’s sight. Take them for regular eye tests and making sure glasses are clean, fit well and have current prescriptions.
• Modify the person’s environment. Upgrade lighting placement, install ramps as a stair alternative, use contrasting colors and keep areas clutter-free.
• Seek professional support. Request evaluations and assistance from visual rehabilitation workers or occupational therapists.
Did you know that hearing loss can increase risk of dementia? Supporting evidence suggests:
• Brain shrinkage – or atrophy – occurs when the “hearing” section of the brain becomes inactive, resulting in tissue loss and changes in brain structure.
• Brain overload occurs when constantly straining to hear forces the brain to work overtime. This is a frustrating exercise that steals a person’s mental energy needed for other critical functions like remembering, thinking and performing tasks.
Hearing Loss & Dementia: How You Can Help:
• Get regular hearing checks
• Optimize listening environments by reducing background noise and distractions
• Face the person when using gestures, expressions and speaking
• Use visual clues and prompts
• Get fitted for a good pair of hearing aids or consider alternate assistive devices
“Assistive devices have come a long way, and in-ear aids may not be the best option for someone with advanced dementia,” points out Jessica Smith, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Wildwood, a new Memory Care community in Wildwood, Florida.
“Small hearing aids can be difficult to use or pose safety risks to people with advanced dementia, as they could be choking hazards,” Jessica explains. “In-ear devices also may not be a cost-effective solution for people prone to misplacing, throwing away or hiding objects, which is common behavior for certain dementias.”
OTHER COMMON HEALTH AILMENTS THAT MIGHT COEXIST WITH DEMENTIA
1. Dehydration and malnutrition. Dementia affects parts of the brain that stimulate thirst and appetite.
3. Poor balance and fall-related injuries.
4. Immobility. Seniors with late-stage Alzheimer’s are often bedridden, putting them at risk for bed sores, infections and loss of muscle function.
5. Pneumonia. The inability to swallow correctly increases a person’s chances of aspirating or inhaling food or liquid into their lungs; aspiration pneumonia is the leading cause of death for people with Alzheimer’s.
Talk to your healthcare provider about minimizing your risks for dementia and coexisting ailments.
To learn how YourLife™ of Wildwood ensure residents’ optimal physical and cognitive health, or to schedule a personal visit, call our team today at 352-433-0942.
Designed for You. Defined by You.
YourLife™ of Wildwood provides the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. In fact, we were created with that one purpose in mind. Each day, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating an environment that caters to each resident’s personal needs, choices and individuality, while ensuring unequaled peace of mind and dedicated support for families.
At YourLife™ of Wildwood, we have the ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents thanks to our sole focus on Memory Care. We understand that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that help to enhance and support each person’s independence while enriching their days. To ensure further peace of mind, our team of YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection.
With our signature YourStory programming, we not only personalize Memory Care, but we are able to create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and wellness programming to scheduled outings and other special events, to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, our residents and their families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more!
Call us at 352-433-0942 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.