What dementia caregiver has not said or thought "I think I'm getting dementia too." When you feel this way, it is probably true that you ARE exhibiting signs of dementia. That doesn't mean you have it! What it does mean is that you are probably stressed, have been for some time, and need to take care of herself. Stress is a leading cause of reversible, temporary dementia. Or let's be gentler and call it temporary mild cognitive impairment.
No one thinks clearly when they are stressed. We are hardwired to react without thinking when we are stressed. That's the way the caveman escaped the saber-toothed tiger. He didn't stop to think about what to do; he just ran. The remedy is a break from caregiving...maybe five minutes locked in the bathroom to take some deep breaths, or maybe a whole week's vacation away from the loved one. Or, likely something in-between, hopefully on a regular basis, like a girl's afternoon out with friends.
Stress can make the PwLBD's dementia symptoms worse too. When the body has to deal with stress, then it the Lewy bodies are allowed "free reign" and symptoms increase. Stress does not cause LBD or make it progress faster, but it sure does make it more unpleasant! Anything you can do to keep stress at a minimum will decrease symptoms and increase quality of life. One of the main stressors is the stress level of the caregiver and so we are back to how to reduce caregiver stress. Other reasons are environmental and emotional. In most cases, find the stressor, remove or decrease it and the stress will also decrease.
There some other causes of reversible dementias. These are usually easier to diagnose than the progressive ones like LBD or Alzheimer's because they have specific causes. Some are very serious, such as brain tumors, and may require surgery. Others are easier to fix--these are the one this blog and the next will be addressing.
Vitamin D deficiency. I discussed this in last week's blog. It is very common with the elderly and can cause a lack of energy and possibly cognition losses.
Dehydration. When there isn't enough fluid in your system to allow blood to circulate freely, adequate oxygen doesn't get to the brain or other organs. This is more likely with the PwLBD than with the caregiver, but it can happen. Signs of possible dehydration include bad breath, headaches, dry skin and a craving for sweets. Signs of good hydration: a) urine that is a clear, very light yellow, and b) skin on the back of the hand that quickly bounces back after being pinched, pulled up and dropped. To improve water intake, choose plain water over fizzy drinks or colas. Drink smoothies and fill up on vegetables and fruits instead of dry carby foods like crackers and pastas.
Sleep deprivation. Seniors are also more likely to be wakened up with bathroom breaks and sleep apnea spells. It can be especially serious for the 24/7 caregiver who is up night after night with a restless loved one. Signs of sleep deprivation are hunger and weight gain, impulsivity and being overly emotional, poor memory and decision making skills, poor motor skills--and a susceptibility for illnesses. (Very similar to signs of stress!) The average person needs about seven hours of sleep a night. If you aren't getting this, try to catch a nap during the day when your loved one is napping. To allow easier sleep, use pressure pads for beds and chairs to warn you about when a loved one is getting up.
If none of these fit but you still feel "dementia-like," next week's blog will be about a few more reasons for feeling less alert.
For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia
Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a physician's advice.