Updated: Jan 18
Dementia is a term used to describe a broad group of symptoms that present with disturbance in cognitive function (memory, thinking, reasoning, judgment, language) that is usually accompanied by psychological changes (mood, personality, behavior). It is more common among older adults but it is not part of the normal aging process. Signs and symptoms may vary per person and would depend on the part of the brain that is affected. Common causes include Alzheimer's disease (most common), vascular dementia, and mixed dementia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports dementia as one of the major causes of disability and dependency in older adults worldwide and the 7th leading cause of death among all diseases globally. Cases are expected to rise as life expectancy increases.
Dementia is currently incurable, but many new treatments are undergoing clinical trials. Some conditions, such as infections, endocrine abnormalities, and nutritional deficiencies, may look like dementia because of certain similarities in the signs and symptoms, but these can be reversible by treating the underlying cause.
People living with dementia must receive medical attention as soon as possible so that any accompanying treatable illness and behavioral changes can be immediately managed, as well as accurate information and adequate support can be provided to them, their families, and other people involved in their care. However, real-world data shows that not everyone with dementia receives the necessary medical care or assistance. The WHO declares that dementia is a public health priority that requires more awareness, understanding, research, and support from the whole society to address barriers to diagnosis and care, as well as stigmatization.
Living with dementia may be challenging and stressful for everyone involved. The Alzheimer Society of Manitoba stated that children and teens may experience varied thoughts and feelings in dealing with a family member who has dementia, and this includes sadness, fear, embarrassment, and anger due to a lack of understanding about the condition. These can be alleviated by talking about dementia in ways that they can clearly understand, allowing them to ask questions, giving them space to be quiet, informing their mentor (e.g., teacher, school counselor) who could provide additional support, and preparing them for changes. They could be shown appreciation for any help that they are willing to extend, assured that their feelings are normal, and no one is being blamed.
There are available kid- and teen-friendly dementia resources that allow the younger generation to learn more about this medical condition at their own pace and time. The Alzheimer’s Association offers book suggestions, videos, and links about Alzheimer’s disease that are helpful for kids and teens. They also offer a parent’s guide to helping kids and teens understand Alzheimer’s disease.
Intergenerational dementia programs aim to provide social interaction and facilitate cooperation among the younger and older generations (Giraudeau & Bailly, 2019), and these have shown benefits for all participants. Programs include art, music, and narrative programs (Galbraith et al., 2015).
Teens, such as Hattie Shapard, saw the importance of increasing social engagement among older adults and the younger generation, as well as reducing social isolation of senior citizens− one of the risk factors for dementia. This has led to the formation of the Amity Program, which connects teen students and older adults through correspondence (letters, phone calls) and art (art supply provision to persons with dementia, card-making initiative given to senior citizens living in isolation). Several positive feedback had been given by students, older adults, families, and partner communities who participated in its programs, and it continues to partner with volunteers and other organizations to further its advocacy.
References: 1. World Health Organization (WHO). Dementia. WHO resource page. Available at: https://who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia. Accessed 5 January 2022.
2. Alzheimer Society Manitoba. Youth and Dementia. Alzheimer Society Manitoba resource page. Available at: https://alzheimer.mb.ca/living-with-dementia/youth-and-dementia. Accessed 5 January 2022. 3. Alzheimer's Association. Parent's Guide: Helping Children and Teens Understand Alzheimer's Disease. Chicago, Illinois: Alzheimer's Association, 2018.
4. Alzheimer’s Association. For Kids. Alzheimer’s Association resource page. Available at: https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources/kids-teens/for_kids#Books. Accessed 5 January 2022. 5. Alzheimer’s Association. For Teens. Alzheimer’s Association resource page. Available at: https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources/kids-teens/for_teens. Accessed 5 January 2022. 6. Giraudeau C, Bailly N. Eur J Ageing 2019;16(3):363–376. DOI: 10.1007/s10433-018-00497-4. PMID: 31543729; PMCID: PMC6728408. 7. Galbraith B, et al. J Gerontol Soc Work 2015;58(4):357–378. DOI: 10.1080/01634372.2015.1008166. Epub 2015 Mar 6. PMID: 25748444. 8. The Amity Program. Who We Are. The Amity Program resource page. Available at: https://www.amityprogram.org/. Accessed 5 January 2022.