Understanding dementia
Understanding dementia
As our population is ageing, more and more families will be affected in one way or the other by the dreaded “dementia” diagnosis.

It is said that 1 in 4 people will eventually develop some form of dementia if they make it past their eighties. Dementia is an umbrella term which includes Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy Body dementia to name a few.

Usually, the patient will not complain about their own forgetfulness or decline in functioning, it will be the family or next of kin reporting these changes. It is important to make the correct diagnosis, if dementia is suspected one must first ensure that other medical conditions have been excluded that can explain a patient’s change in behavior.

Basic screening for dementia includes checking for vitamin B12 deficiency, electrolyte abnormalities (especially if it has an acute onset) or an underactive thyroid as all these conditions could affect cognitive functioning. If the history is indicative of infections like HIV or neurosyphilis, further screening can commence.

Neuroimaging (MRI or CT scan) often supports the diagnosis but is not necessarily part of initial screening unless conditions like a brain hemorrhage, tumour or increase in intracranial pressure needs to be excluded. A thorough medical history and examination as well as a basic test for cognitive functioning (Mini Mental Test) is usually enough to make a primary diagnosis.

There are many options for taking care of demented patients, home-based care is in many cases the best option and least disruptive for the patient if the environment is supportive.

Small changes in the home environment can contribute to a calm, safe and content patient. The colour of the room, tablecloth and crockery, music, and pictures against the wall are a few examples of affordable changes that can have an immense impact.

It is therefore important to get enough support and input into dementia programmes to assist the patient, but also the primary caregiver to have the best possible outcome and to prevent carer burnout. For some, admitting a patient to a Dementia facility or Memory Centre as it is often called, might be the only option. Make sure to do your homework well before choosing a facility for your loved one.

Dementia programmes and sufficient clinical support is needed to support these patients. Family involvement is key even though your loved one might not remember you, you still remember them!

Medwell SA specialises in providing managed home health care as an alternative to long-term hospitalisation and care in specialised facilities. Medwell SA’s service offering includes managed care at home, post-hospitalisation and discharge from rehabilitation facilities as well as the supply of all needed medical equipment through our incorporated partner EDNA Medical Distributors. Medwell SA’s services are offered to all age groups including the elderly that have become frail and those with Dementia.

Dr Janet Strauss is the Chief Operations Officer at Medwell SA – The Home Health Care Specialists.

For more information, send an e-mail to info@medwell.co.za

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