Most people understand that Dementia is not a single illness, but a group of symptons caused by specific brain disorders. The most common cause is Alzheimer's disease, but dementia can also be the result of a stroke or mini-strokes.
Dementia currently affects more than 570,000 people in England. It mainly affects older people, although about 12,500 people under 65 have some form of dementia. Both men and women are affected.
The main symptoms of Dementia are :
- loss of memory: such as forgetting the way home from the shops, forgetting names or places, or being unable to remember what happened earlier in the day;
- mood changes: because of damage to parts of the brain that control emotions, people can become frightened, angry or sad more easily;
- communication problems: a decline in the ability to talk, read and write.
A proper diagnosis of dementia is essential. The doctor - either a GP or a specialist - will carry out a number of tests, looking at both memory and the ability to perform daily tasks. The doctor will also aim to rule out any illnesses that might have similar symptoms to dementia, including depression. The right diagnosis, whatever it may be, can help patients and those close to them prepare and plan for the future.
Becoming forgetful does not necessarily mean that someone has dementia: memory loss can be a normal part of ageing, and it can also be a sign of stress or depression. If you know someone who is worried about their memory, encourage them to visit their GP.
A diagnosis of dementia can cause different emotions, many of them difficult to manage both for the person with the illness and those around them. There may also be a sense of relief: now that they know what the problem is, they can begin to deal with it.
A person with dementia will probably be sad or upset at times. In the earlier stages, they may want to talk about their anxieties and the problems they are experiencing. Try to understand how they feel, and don't brush their worries aside. Listen, let them talk, and show that you are there for them.
When someone has dementia, they need:-
- reassurance that they are still valued, and that their feelings matter;
- freedom from as much external stress as possible;
- appropriate activities and stimulation to help them to remain alert and motivated for as long as possible.
It is important to understand that a person with dementia is not being deliberately difficult: often their behaviour is an attempt to communicate. If you can establish what this is, you can resolve their concerns more quickly. Try to put yourself in their place and understand what they are trying to express and how they might be feeling.
Five simple ways to help someone living with dementia
Respect and dignity - Focus on what the person can do, not what they can't.
Be a good listener and be friendly - Support and accept the person, be patient.
Do one little thing - Cook a meal or run an errand, it all helps.
Make time for everyone - Partners, children and grandchildren will be affected. Could you do something to help one of them?
Find out more - Understanding dementia makes living with it easier.