By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions
To be sure that those of us attending her presentation last week on “The Three D’s: Depression, Dementia and Delirium”, speaker Colleen Caron repeated the following mantra often:
Exercise, exercise, exercise… and laugh.
Colleen is a Certified Registered Nurse. She serves as Older Adult Coordinator at the Amita Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. The informational program she conducted at the Heritage Woods affordable assisted living community Gardant manages in South Elgin, Illinois, was sponsored by Amita Health, Ardent Care home caregivers, Heritage Woods of South Elgin and the White Oaks affordable memory care community at Heritage Woods.
As we get older, we are more at risk of developing depression, Colleen said. A big reason why is because we are more likely to experience losses, including the deaths of a spouse, friends and possibly even children; the loss of a job; and the loss of the status that can come from a job. Depression also can be common after a stroke.
As we age, the risk of developing dementia also increases. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, of the 5.2 million individuals in the United States estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease, more than 95% are 65+.
One of the challenges when it comes to depression, dementia and delirium, is that they can mimic each other, Colleen cautioned. Each involves confused thinking, and they are not mutually exclusive. You, for instance, can have delirium and depression.
The onset of delirium is usually rapid, occurring within a few hours or a few days. The flu, a respiratory or urinary tract infection, anesthesia from surgery, or a reaction to medications can be among the causes.
Dementia, however, is usually characterized by a decline in mental function that occurs over a two-year to ten-year period of time. Research is showing that the onset of the Alzheimer’s disease, which ranks as the most common form of dementia, often occurs years before symptoms begin to appear.
What is so important, Colleen said, is to get an accurate diagnosis based on a thorough assessment.
Why? Depression and delirium are treatable. With dementia, there are medications available that can potentially slow the progression of the disease. Conditions such as hypothyroidism and a Vitamin B deficiency can mimic dementia.
The assessment should include a medical and medication history; complete physical exam; interviews with the patient and their family; a mood evaluation; lab work, including blood and urine; imaging procedures; and neuro-psychological testing.
Be sure to tell your doctor everything. When asked how you are feeling, don’t answer “fine” if everything is not fine.
Write down your symptoms and your questions and take them with you when you visit your doctor. Also, be sure to keep a list of all the medications you take, the name of the medication, the dose, and how often you take it. Be sure to show the list to every doctor you see. Tell your doctor if you are not improving.
We used to think that as we got older, our brains would shrink, Colleen said. Research shows that this is not the case. Our brains can create new pathways. One way is by doing things differently. For example, if you are right handed, brush your teeth with your left hand rather than your right. Another, it should come as no surprise, is by exercising. Exercising your body, and exercising your mind.
As a resident of Heritage Woods mentioned during the program, residents can take advantage of the exercise programs offered at the affordable assisted living community. Also available for residents to use are an exercise room and a computerized brain fitness program.
As Colleen reiterated so often during her presentation, the best steps you can take for your physical and mental well-being is to exercise, exercise, exercise… and laugh.