What Is It Really Like Living With Dementia?


Did you know that one in every 10 U.S. adults aged 65 or older is living with dementia? That’s on top of the 2 in 10 older Americans with mild cognitive impairment.

Of the many types of dementia known today, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common. So much so that it accounts for an estimated 60% to 80% of all current dementia cases.

But what exactly is dementia, and how does it feel to live with this condition and its symptoms? Most importantly, is there a way to treat and manage it?

This guide answers all those questions, so please read on.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is an impaired ability to make decisions, think, and remember things. It can be so severe that it already interferes with activities of daily living (ADLs).

Contrary to popular belief, dementia isn’t a part of normal aging. It’s true, though, that it primarily affects older adults.

What Causes Dementia?

Abnormal brain changes are behind most types of dementia. They damage the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. That impairment then interferes with a person’s ability to think, behave, and feel.

The exact cause of dementia depends on the damaged area or region of the brain. For example, AD often starts in the hippocampus, the brain’s learning and memory center. That’s also why memory loss is one of the earliest and most well-known signs of dementia.

What Are the Signs of Dementia?

In people who’ve recently developed dementia, their memory is often the first to go. That may cause them to struggle to find the right words during conversations. They may also forget names and birthdays or feel confused about times and places.

From there, loss of concentration, such as getting easily distracted, may set in. That may then make them forget what they initially wanted to do.

Struggling with ADLs, such as bathing or shopping, is also a common early sign of dementia.

Some symptoms are specific to the type of dementia. For example, asking questions repeatedly is one of the most common signs of AD. Another is becoming more withdrawn or feeling more and more anxious.

By contrast, mobility problems like difficulty walking are specific to vascular dementia (VD). People with VD also tend to have emotional bouts and depression.

As for dementia with Lewy bodies, it may cause repeated falls and fainting. People with this type of dementia may also develop sleep disturbances. Some may even experience visual hallucinations.

What Does Living With Dementia Feel Like?

People living with dementia might not notice their memory lapses themselves. Instead, it’s their loved ones who often do.

As the symptoms worsen, those with dementia may feel more annoyed and upset at themselves. They may also become embarrassed, such as if they get their math wrong while counting change at a shop.

From there, they may become increasingly anxious about making mistakes. For instance, they may worry about their safety and security. That can happen because they keep forgetting whether they locked the front door.

Fear is also typical among individuals living with dementia. For example, those with AD may feel scared to go out for fear of getting lost or confused about where they are. As for people with VD, they may feel afraid to go up or down the stairs as they worry about slipping, tripping, or falling.

All of that can further affect the mental health of someone with dementia. Indeed, researchers say psychiatric disorders are more common in those with dementia. Likewise, having mental illnesses also increase the risk of developing dementia.

Is There a Cure for Dementia?

Scientists have yet to discover a cure for dementia. However, many medicines are available for treating and easing its symptoms. Most of these are for AD, but they may also help people with VD or dementia with Lewy bodies.

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are among the most common drugs used to reduce dementia symptoms. They prevent acetylcholine, a type of enzyme, from breaking down in the brain. That results in the brain’s nerve cells being able to communicate better with each other.

What Does Coping With Dementia Entail?

If you suspect you have dementia, please visit your primary care doctor immediately. They can help connect you to a neurologist, a specialist in disorders of the brain. The earlier you receive a diagnosis, the sooner you can receive proper treatment. 

You can also call Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) to talk to a professional. It’s a free service for people with dementia and their families. Their clinicians provide round-the-clock confidential support and information. 

If you’re caring for aging parents with dementia, you must also learn how to cope with it. Otherwise, your health is at risk, considering dementia caregiving can be stressful. For example, you may feel annoyed or upset as your elderly parents keep forgetting things.

Remember: People with dementia aren’t being stubborn because they want to be. They’re not asking the same questions repeatedly because they want to infuriate you. Their brain makes them do that, so they don’t have complete control over their actions.

So whenever you’re on the verge of snapping, take a breather. Then, imagine yourself in their shoes. Realizing that they don’t like what’s happening to them can be enough to calm you down.

Try to make time for yourself, too, and have someone you trust to care for your loved one with dementia while you do. Alternatively, you can hire private home care agencies to look after them. Check these services offered by at-home caregivers to get an idea of what they can do to help you and your loved ones.

Live Well Even With Dementia

The thought of living with dementia is scary, but many people who have it still feel happy. Many with this condition even safely live in their homes for several years.

However, please understand that, at some point, having dementia would require extra help. Nevertheless, so long as there’s proper support, one can live well even with this condition.