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While many people think they know what dementia is, it is actually widely misunderstood. I have been asked “what is dementia?” many times over the past 20 years and am often surprised how many caregivers, professional and family, don’t actually know. However, every time I’m asked this question, I am thankful for another opportunity to raise dementia awareness. It begins with understanding what you’re up against.

One of the biggest myths about dementia is that it is a specific disease. Rather, it is an overall set of symptoms associated with a decline in thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. When someone experiences the symptoms of dementia, they lose the ability to make sense of the information that is taken in by the brain. As a result, entire experiences are essentially lost. To put this very simply, the essential parts of the brain that we use to access and utilize in order to understand the world around us to do anything become “broken.”

I like to use cold and flu symptoms and causes as a way to explain dementia symptoms. Just like a cold or flu can present with many different symptoms, dementia symptoms can present in many different ways, including issues with cognitive skills, mood and behavior changes, muscle memory and psychological states. And just as common cold and flu symptoms can be caused by other things such as allergies, dementia can be caused by more than just Alzheimer’s disease. This is one of the most common misconceptions I hear. Although Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, dementia symptoms can also be caused by a stroke, Parkinson’s disease or even exposure to toxins, among many other things.

While the causes of dementia symptoms often cannot be reversed, we can support loved ones and those in our care living with dementia by becoming Dementia Aware. This means doing the thinking for them so that they feel safe, loved and supportive. This approach to care allows your relationship with family, residents or clients to flourish despite the many challenges that come along with caregiving. Wherever you are in this complex journey, there is an entire community of caregivers providing support through sharing experiences with another. I invite you to join our community and, as always, am here to support you. Please don’t ever hesitate to reach out to me directly at help@laurawayman.com.

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