What's it like to see a loved one go through dementia symptoms

30 January 2023 dot 4-minute read
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More than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Joan Diaz, now 65, started losing her memory and showing dementia symptoms about six years ago. Her kids, Claire and Pete, thought the memory lapses were typical signs of women her age.
"It began with little things like forgetting where she put something," Pete recalls. "She also began to become distrustful. We assumed it was a normal sign of ageing and weren't too concerned about it."
Today, Claire says her mother's memory has declined a lot. "She often forgets who my brother and I are. It's heartbreaking."

Signs of dementia

Ageing leaves a senior's ability to reason and solve problems primarily intact. People with dementia lose this function. (Credit: Shutterstock)
There are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia in the world every year. And by 2050, there will be an estimated 71 million people with dementia symptoms living in Asia Pacific, more than half of the projected 135 million global cases, according to Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI).
Dementia happens when various diseases and injuries, such as Alzheimer's or stroke, affect the brain. This syndrome leads to the deterioration of cognitive function and goes beyond the known consequences of ageing.
The most distinctive feature of dementia is a progressive decline in memory, speech, reasoning and other cognitive abilities. The symptoms, which include confusion, personality changes and emotional instability, become more disruptive over time.
The onset of dementia can be subtle and may go undetected or overlooked. Trust your gut if you notice unusual behaviour. Keep an eye out for changes like these early signs of dementia and see a doctor for screening.
1. Short-term memory loss. Loved ones struggle to remember things and consistently forget the names of friends, family or even entire events. They increasingly repeat themselves.
2. Confusion and needs help with familiar tasks. A loved one frequently misplaces everyday items, has trouble following a recipe they once cooked regularly or even forgets how to use their mobile phone.
3. Problems with language and understanding. People with dementia may struggle to find the right words, follow conversations and spell or write sentences.
4. Changes in behaviour and mood swings. They may experience sudden fear, frustration, paranoia, suspicion and anxiety. They can become aggressive and violent.

Living with dementia

There is no cure for dementia. Early diagnosis and treatment may potentially delay further cognitive decline. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Claire and Pete knew their mother as a woman whose positivity and warmth brought joy to everyone around her. But her quick-witted sense of humour and love for life began to fade with dementia. She became suspicious, irritable, and at times, even aggressive toward those around her.
"Our mother went through phases of denial, aggression, sadness and depression. She kept repeating herself and forgot the names of close friends and family. The independent woman we once knew was now depending on us for everything," Claire recalls.
The heartbreak that comes with watching their strong mother slowly decline and fade away has overwhelmed Claire and Pete many times. They have felt powerless, inadequate and angry.
"We didn't know what to expect or if there was anything we could do rather than just watching our mother spiral down and stray further from herself," Pete recalls.
Claire adds, "We didn't know how to deal with all that guilt and sadness and cope with things. At one point, a health professional told us, it is the illness, not your mum. That's when things started to get better for us. That's when we started to see our real mum again through the illness."
So, they stopped fighting and embraced it. "Accept that it's happening," Claire and Pete share. "Cherish your time together and appreciate the moments of clarity. Remember them for who they were throughout their life."
At the beginning of their journey, Claire and Pete relied on community and online resources for caregivers and their families. Both found local support groups who knew what they were going through and made them feel less isolated, hopeless and fearful.
Claire and Pete now rely on family members, friends and volunteer organisations to help with daily caregiving. They are considering trying caregiving assistance and adult day-care.
They learned that having time for themselves was okay. The siblings schedule breaks throughout the day to pursue their interests, meet with friends and lead a "normal" life. They emphasise they could not have cared for their mum without the right support and self-care.
There's no such thing as being too prepared. Even if additional support for dementia symptoms seems like a long way off, consider taking out a medical protection plan. The insurance will provide peace of mind and financial support in a time of need.
WHO, World Health Organisation. 2021. Dementia. Fact Sheet. [online]  [Accessed on 25 August 2022]
ADI, Alzheimer's Disease International. 2014. Dementia in the Asia Pacific Region. Report. [online]  [Accessed on 25 August 2022]
The Lancet. Neurology. 2015. Dementia warning for the Asia-Pacific region. [online]  [Accessed on 25 August 2022]
International Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. 2012. Trends in Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia in the Asian-Pacific Region. [online]  [Accessed on 25 August 2022]
Alzheimer's Research & Therapy. 2021. Dementia in Southeast Asia: influence of onset-type, education, and cerebrovascular disease. [online]  [Accessed on 25 August 2022]
ASEAN. Association of Southeast Asian Nations. 2022. Alzheimer's Disease International, ASEAN promote intergenerational collaboration for dementia. [online]  [Accessed on 25 August 2022]
Ageing and Mental Health. 2014. 'It's in the eyes: how family members and care staff understand awareness in people with severe dementia. [online]  [Accessed on 13 September 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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