Dementia Care: What to Know

Woman and man discussion dementia care with a professional

What is Dementia?

Dementia refers to multiple conditions that impact the memory, communication, and daily functioning of millions of people around the world.  

One of the most challenging parts about dementia for everyone involved is its progressive nature. At first, symptoms can be mistaken as a normal part of aging. While it’s not uncommon for people to forget more as they age, dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. As dementia progresses, symptoms become more severe. The person might have trouble with routine tasks, holding conversations, and even recognizing loved ones. 

Dementia is difficult for all parties involved. However, understanding the various types of dementia can help you best support your loved one and seek the appropriate help for their care needs. Here’s what you need to know. 

Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease makes up 60-80% of dementia cases. The disease is caused by protein deposits in the brain, called amyloid plaques and tau tangles. These proteins stop brain cells from talking to each other, which eventually causes the cells to die and leads to a decline in brain function. 

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, people might only have minor problems with their memory. As the disease progresses, they might find it hard to complete simple tasks and start showing changes in mood and behavior. Helping a loved one through these stages can be very challenging for caregivers and families. 

While Alzheimer’s mostly affects older adults, some people under age 65 also get the disease, otherwise known as early-onset Alzheimer’s. Because early-onset Alzheimer’s impacts younger people, it can be especially hard for those affected and their families to understand how to get a diagnosis and the right level of care. 

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia. When the brain doesn’t get enough blood flow, it doesn’t receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs, which can cause strokes, mini-strokes, or other problems with blood vessels in the brain. This, in turn, can cause vascular dementia. 

Symptoms can differ depending on which part of the brain is affected and the severity of the blood flow restriction. Many symptoms get worse over time, making it hard for loved ones to do daily activities. Unlike other types of dementia, vascular dementia symptoms can suddenly progress if there are more changes in blood flow. Additionally, many risk factors for heart problems also increase the risk of vascular dementia. This includes high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and smoking.  

While dealing with the unknown can create added stress for those impacted by the condition, managing risk factors can help prevent unexpected changes.

icons showing the most common types of dementia
Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia is caused by abnormal protein deposits in the brain, otherwise known as Lewy bodies. These deposits stop the brain from working normally and cause thinking, movement, and mood symptoms. 

One key sign of Lewy body dementia is changes in thinking and alertness that can shift from day to day. People with this condition might see people, animals, or things that aren’t there. They might also have trouble moving, with symptoms like stiffness, shaking, or shuffling. 


Parkinson’s Disease Dementia

Many people with Parkinson’s disease develop a condition called Parkinson’s disease dementia. While not everyone with Parkinson’s disease gets dementia, it’s estimated that up to 80% will have impacts to their mental abilities. 

Mental symptoms often present a few years after the mobility problems start. This includes trouble with memory, paying attention, and daily tasks. People may also experience changes in their mood and behavior. Feeling sad, worried, or disinterested can make life harder for those impacted. 

Quote on how common dementia is

How Common is Dementia?

Dementia is common in the United States. Nearly 7 million Americans over 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease. This number will likely increase as the population ages. It is estimated that the number may reach 13 million by 2050.

Advancing age increases the risk of dementia, but it’s not a normal part of aging. Memory may decline as people grow older, but dementia is more severe. The disease impacts all parts of daily life. Not all older adults will experience dementia, but it is important to be aware of the causes and warning signs.

Icons of the dementia risk factors, age, genetics and environment

Dementia Risk Factors

Dementia is caused by brain cells dying. This stops communication between cells and prevents them from functioning properly. While the results are similar, the cause may vary depending on the type of dementia. Understanding these differences is important for diagnosis and care. Most importantly, it can also help you better understand your loved one’s needs.  

Several factors that can increase the risk of dementia: 

  • Age: The risk increases a lot after the age of 65. It’s rare, but dementia can occur in younger individuals as well. 
  • Genetics: Someone whose parents or grandparents had dementia could be more likely to develop the condition.  
  • Environment: The natural conditions that we live in, such as exposure to toxins, can also increase the risk of dementia.  

By understanding common risk factors of dementia, you can take steps to potentially lower that risk.  

Quote on the difference between memory loss and dementia

Most Common Signs of Dementia

It’s important to know the typical signs of dementia so you can get help earlier. While symptoms may differ depending on the type and progression of the condition, some of the most common signs include: 

  • Memory loss, especially of recent memories, significant names and dates, and/or important events 
  • Difficulty with language and communication, such as forgetting words or struggling to follow conversations 
  • Impaired reasoning and judgment, leading to poor decision-making or difficulty solving problems 
  • Disorientation or confusion, particularly regarding time, place, or familiar surroundings 
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as increased agitation, irritability, or withdrawal from social activities 

Remember: Sometimes forgetting things or having trouble finding the right word doesn’t mean your loved one has dementia. But if this happens to them often or disrupts their daily life, it’s important that they see a doctor. 

Co-existing Conditions

People with dementia often have other health problems which can make the condition harder to diagnose and treat. Health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure can increase the risk of vascular dementia. Also, if someone with dementia is upset or worried, it can make their memory and thinking problems worse. By addressing other health problems, you can help your loved one manage their dementia better. 

 It can also be hard for people to talk about their health problems as dementia gets worse. For example, they might not be able to explain how they feel or understand what doctors tell them, which can make it harder for doctors and caregivers to determine what’s wrong and how to help. As a result, some individuals with dementia might not receive the right diagnosis or treatment for their other health issues. Professional caregivers can significantly help families navigate these conversations, using simple words and pictures. 


If your loved one starts showing signs of dementia, it’s important to see a doctor right away. The doctor will check their medical history, perform a physical exam, and conduct cognitive tests. The physician might also take an MRI of their brain or run other tests. Seeing a doctor with advanced knowledge in dementia, like a neurologist, geriatrician, or psychiatrist, can help ensure your loved one receives the right diagnosis and treatment.

When doctors try to determine whether a patient has dementia, they perform various tests. Here’s how it works:

The doctor asks about how the patient has been feeling and any medical issues they’ve had, as well as their health history, family history with dementia, and medications they take.

Clipboard with medical history

The doctor examines the patient to make sure other problems like heart disease or strokes aren’t causing their symptoms.  

Stethoscope held up to lungs as part of an exam

Patients take specialized exams to test their memory, attention and problem-solving skills, and language comprehension. Some common tests are the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). 

Gears in a brain within the outline of a head

Doctors take the patient’s blood work to see if thyroid issues or vitamin deficiencies could be causing their forgetfulness.

Test tube and droplet of a liquid

The patient might be asked to take an MRI or CT scan. These machines take pictures of the brain to detect any changes, such as strokes or shrinkage. 

Image of a brain

Many doctors will also test a patient’s reflexes, including how well the patient can move, eye movements, and speech patterns to see whether there are signs of specific types of dementia. 

Outline of the spine leading into the head

There are many behavioral overlaps between depression and dementia. The doctor might talk to the patient about their feelings to see whether they have depression, generalized anxiety, or another mood disorder instead of — or in addition to — dementia. 

Checklist and three people icons

If the patient is young or has a family history of dementia, the doctor might run genetic testing to see whether the person has a type of dementia that runs in their family.  

Outline of DNA

The doctor checks how well the person can perform everyday tasks, from dressing and bathing to handling money, cooking, and more. 

Cycle of the day and night

Management and Treatment

While there is currently no cure for dementia, there are a few ways to help people living with the condition manage better, including: 

  • Physical activity, eating healthy foods, and addressing other health issues. 
  • Brain exercises, maintaining a schedule, and making small environmental changes to help someone with dementia adapt and cope better. 
  • In some cases, doctors may prescribe medicines to help manage specific symptoms like forgetfulness and insomnia. While these medicines can’t cure dementia, they can help those living with dementia reduce the impact of some of their symptoms. 

 There are many ways to seek help for your loved one with dementia. You might have someone come to their home to help, or look into specialized dementia care communities. It’s important to assess various care options so you can make the most informed decision for your loved one. 

Icons outlining the treatment of dementia

Dementia Care Tips for Caregivers

Receiving a dementia diagnosis can be one of the hardest, most emotional experiences — not only for the individual, but also their loved ones.  

By learning more about the various types of dementia, how it progresses over time, and coping techniques, you can help your loved one receive the right care and improve their quality of life. Talking to doctors and joining support groups can also help caregivers feel understood.  

Taking care of someone with dementia requires a lot of patience, love, and planning. Establishing a routine can help them feel more secure and less confused. When you talk to your loved one with dementia, use simple words, maintain eye contact, and be patient when they need time to answer. Doing things they enjoy can make them feel happier and help keep their brain active. Making sure they can easily move around in their home is also critical to ensure their safety.  


Planning for the Future

It’s important to prepare for what your loved one will need as their dementia progresses. Even though it might seem overwhelming, financial planning is critical for your loved one living with dementia. This means making sure important documents and decisions, like a healthcare proxy, are in place. Planning will not only help prevent problems later, but also ensure your loved one’s wishes are honored. It’s also important to talk to your loved one about their living plans in the future, which can help make any potential changes easier when it’s time. 


When Is It Time to Get Help at Home?

Deciding when to seek extra help at home for your loved one with dementia can be a complicated and emotional decision. As dementia progresses, it can be hard for family members to give all the care that’s needed for their loved one impacted by the condition. If you are noticing some of these signs, it might be time to seek extra help for your loved one with dementia: 

  • Losing weight 
  • Frequent falls 
  • Wandering off and/or getting lost 
  • Significantly experiencing more forgetfulness  
  • Having trouble with everyday tasks, like bathing or getting dressed  

Getting a professional to come help at home can make a big difference. They can keep your loved one company, help with medical needs, and give caregivers and family a break when they need it. 


When Is It Time for a Higher Level of Dementia Care?

Sometimes, families must make a bigger decision about moving their loved one to a memory care facility. They might notice dangerous patterns, like their loved one forgetting to turn off the stove or getting lost when they go out. If your loved one starts acting differently, experiencing extreme mood swings, or if they need a lot more help than the family can give, it might be time to consider memory care. Memory care facilities make sure people with dementia are safe and supported while lessening the burden on caregivers and families. 


Finding the Right Dementia Care Community

When you’re looking for a dementia care community, put time into your research. Think about your loved one’s needs and interests. Look for memory care communities near you and schedule tours at properties that might be a fit for your loved one. Assess safety, building cleanliness, and most importantly, the friendliness of staff. You want to choose a community with staff who are not only experienced in dementia care, but will treat your loved one with warmth and empathy. Taking these steps will help you make the right decision for your loved one — so they can receive the care they need and be happy.  

Contact CareOne to learn more about dementia care.  


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