Understanding Non-Cognitive Changes in those with Dementia | Right at Home San Jose

Non-Cognitive Changes with Dementia

carol gonzalez sheak biopsychology and dementia

With individuals living with dementia , we need to focus not just on their memory loss and confusion, but also on other types of changes, such as personality changes, depression, anxiety, anger—the non-cognitive changes of dementia that are not strictly related to thinking and reasoning, as much as emotional and perceptual changes that take place.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) are often the greatest challenges their caregivers face. If left untreated, these symptoms can accelerate decline and reduce quality of life.

Understanding How the Biology of the Brain Affects Behavior

Most newly diagnosed individuals experience a high level of anxiety, and that may be due to their awareness of their condition or seeing things that they can no longer do. Their sensitivity to or threshold for anxiety changes. You may see other changes in eating patterns, ambulation and even facial expressions—like the way they laugh. These are indicative of changes in personality.

When people start to notice how Alzheimer’s and other dementias change them, they often feel awkward and embraced which then leads to withdrawal from activities with family and friends. Social isolation is probably one of the biggest sources of anxiety for those with dementia. People are afraid to participate in large group conversations because they can’t keep up so that may increase anxiety and release stress hormones from the adrenal gland that can affect cognitive functioning.

Visual and auditory changes are other non-cognitive symptoms that may accompany dementia. If brain cells (neurons) at the back of the brain are affected, visual perception is changed. The person can be looking at an object and not really perceive or recognize it as well as most of us do.

Fear and paranoia are non-cognitive symptoms of dementia, leading individuals to be suspicious of and distrusts others in general. Sleep patterns can also change, often long before a person is diagnosed with a cognitive disorder. It is unclear if the environmental changes impact the brain, or the biological changes affect how we interact with the environment to cause a change in the sleep pattern.

Caregiving for a Loved One living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Change is extremely difficult for someone who has dementia. But with proper treatment and consistent support and care, many dementia patients can ease their non-cognitive symptoms. 

It takes a village for one family caregiver, individual or spouse to not be burdened with all the care needs for someone who has dementia. It can be professional help, support groups or organizations that focus on Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

At Right at Home, my background in the medical and pharmaceutical fields and education in neuropsychology—the study of how the biology of the brain affects behavior—allow me to better support people who are going through cognitive changes.

Right at Home San Jose, CA is certified to provide dementia and cognitive support. We recognize the behaviors and abilities of each individual client and empower each person to still use those abilities. Our mission and goal is to improve the quality of lives for people we serve.

Dementia is a very broad-based umbrella term that means a person has cognitive changes or decline that impacts their ability to pursue their activities of daily living.

Carol Gonzalez-Sheak
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