Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout

Dementia: Info and Advice for Caregivers

What is dementia?

People who have dementia have a problem in the brain that makes it hard to remember, learn and communicate. These changes eventually make it hard for them to care for themselves. Dementia may also cause changes in mood and personality. Early on, lapses in memory and clear thinking may bother the person with dementia. Later, disruptive behavior and other problems can create a burden for caregivers and other family members.

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused by the destruction of brain cells. A head injury, stroke, brain tumor or disease (such as Alzheimer's disease) can damage brain cells.

How is dementia treated?

Once brain cells have been destroyed, they cannot be replaced. However, some causes of dementia can be treated. This treatment may slow or stop the loss of more brain cells. When the cause of dementia can't be treated, the focus of care is on helping the person with his or her daily activities and reducing upsetting symptoms. Some medicines can help people with dementia. Your family doctor will talk with you about treatment options.

Are behavior problems common?

Yes. Many people who have dementia have problems such as shouting, having disturbed sleep and becoming agitated (upset and confused). Wandering away and resisting care are also common. People who have Alzheimer's disease may have strange thoughts, or may imagine they hear or see things (hallucinations). Medicines may be useful to control behavior problems, but there are also other ways to help.

How can caregivers help?

To help keep a loved one who has dementia from feeling upset, limit the number of difficult activities he or she has to do. Or schedule these activities for a time when the person is less agitated. Reduce wandering by putting a stop sign or a piece of furniture in front of any doors your loved one should not go out. Your family doctor can offer other helpful suggestions.