Last night I attended a meeting about living with dementia. My ex mother in law has dementia and I was keen to learn more about the condition and how the way in which I interact with sufferers and their families both personally and professionally. As a result of the meeting I have become a Dementia Friend.
Dementia doesn’t care who you are; it could affect us all. Because public understanding is so poor, people with dementia often feel – and are – misunderstood, marginalised and isolated. And that means that they’re less likely to be able to live independently in their own communities.
The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour.
Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but not the only one. The specific symptoms that someone with dementia experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia.
Each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. The different types of dementia also tend to affect people differently, especially in the early stages. Other factors that will affect how well someone can live with dementia include how other people respond to them and the environment around them.
A person with dementia will have cognitive symptoms (to do with thinking or memory). They will often have problems with some of the following:
- day-to-day memory – for example, difficulty recalling events that happened recently
- concentrating, planning or organising – for example, difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (such as cooking a meal)
- language – for example, difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something
- visuospatial skills – for example, problems judging distances (such as on stairs) and seeing objects in three dimensions
- orientation – for example, losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are.
A person with dementia will also often have changes in their mood. For example, they may become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. With some types of dementia, the person may see things that are not really there (visual hallucinations) or strongly believe things that are not true (delusions).
Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms gradually get worse over time. How quickly this happens varies greatly from person to person. As dementia progresses, the person may develop behaviours that seem unusual or out of character. These behaviours may include asking the same question over and over, pacing, restlessness or agitation. They can be distressing or challenging for the person and those close to them.
A person with dementia, especially in the later stages, may have physical symptoms such as muscle weakness or weight loss. Changes in sleep pattern and appetite are also common.
We urgently need to create a climate of kindness and understanding, so that everyone affected by dementia feels part of, not apart from, society.
Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends is doing just that. It’s the biggest ever initiative to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about dementia.
Becoming a Dementia Friend simply means finding out more about how dementia affects a person – and then, armed with this understanding, doing small everyday things that help. For example, being patient in a shop queue, or spending time with someone you know who’s living with dementia.
Please consider becoming a Dementia Friend find more details at https://www.alzheimers.org.uk
With thanks to the Altzheimers Society