Face to Face with Dementia

December 11, 2014 4:14 pm

Most of us are aware that dementia is a term used to describe the decline of a person’s mental ability and can significantly impact on day-to-day life.  Not everybody however understands the true nature of dementia; that is how it develops, how to recognise it and what to do when they know or suspect someone is suffering from it.  Having studied a little about dementia in my degree and witnessing its effects first hand, both in my personal and professional life, I feel I have gained a better understanding about the condition.  Although I am no expert on the subject, I believe that sharing experiences can help increase awareness and provide help to those affected by dementia.

dementia

Key facts

What causes it?

Dementia is caused by neurodegenerative diseases which inflict damage to the brain. Such diseases include Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with lewy bodies; each having a different impact on the brain and subject to a range of factors which are believed to be responsible for their development.

Who suffers?

  • Dementia is typically common amongst the elderly, affecting one in three people over the age of 65
  • Women are more likely to be affected, making up two-thirds of all dementia sufferers
  • Friends and family of those with dementia can also suffer, as they may have to care for and witness the decline of their loved ones

Signs and symptoms:

  • Memory loss – particularly short-term memory
  • Changes in mood
  • Confusion
  • Having difficulty with words and numbers

For more information about the causes of dementia, signs and symptoms to look out for, how it is diagnosed and what to do if you suspect someone is suffering with dementia, follow the link below:

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/dementia-guide/Pages/symptoms-of-dementia.aspx

 

My involvement with dementia

At home:

Two of the most common symptoms of dementia, as mentioned, are confusion and memory loss.  One of my first personal experiences of this was when my Nan phoned me one evening and apologized for not offering my sister and I any lunch when we came to visit that afternoon. In actual fact, neither of us had seen her at all that day but she was genuinely convinced that we were both there with her and kept saying how sorry she was for forgetting to offer us something to eat. I did however speak to her on the phone that afternoon, and I can only presume that she was confusing this phone call with a visit. My Nan had been somewhat forgetful about a few minor things prior to this but it wasn’t until this day that I started to worry, and looked at these other ‘minor’ incidences a little differently.

Another occurrence which raised alarm bells to myself and my family was when my Nan tried to cook an egg in the microwave with its shell still on.  The egg exploded and broke the microwave.  As well as being a great cook once upon a time, my Nan was no stranger to using a microwave. She knew how an egg was supposed to be cooked and even tried denying doing it, saying “I didn’t put the egg in there; of course I know you don’t cook it with the shell on!”

This, amongst other things like leaving reminder notes to herself about family members’ names and what relation they are to her, was therefore a clear sign to us that her memory is becoming a cause for concern and thus a potential hazard to her own health and wellbeing.  As it happens, our concerns were right.  Four months later, my Nan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is now living in residential care.

 At work:

I currently work as a community carer for the elderly, many of whom suffer with dementia.  One of my regular service users (clients) has dementia and, although I have no information on the severity of her condition, I would suspect that she is past the early stages.  Her short term memory seems to have diminished quite significantly, for example she will ask the same few questions repeatedly during my thirty minute visit (such as my name and whether I have any brothers or sisters), and has lost the ability to take charge of her personal care.  This lady also talks about her daughter now and again as though she is living nearby but, sadly, passed away some years ago.  As a result of my time spent with her, together with doing some research of my own about dementia, I have learned that it is sometimes best to just go along with what they are telling you, even if you know differently, as correcting them will only cause upset and more confusion.

Another instance occurred when I was asked to cover a shift in a residential home which catered for the elderly of various needs and abilities.  I spent a good two hours talking to one particular lady over the course of my shift before I found out she was suffering from dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) if I remember rightly. Common symptoms of FTD include problems with language comprehension, which shocked me to discover this because I didn’t feel there was anything wrong with her speech whatsoever! It wasn’t until later on when I overheard her talking about being pregnant and when her due date was, that the penny dropped.  I guess my point is that symptoms don’t always present themselves straight away which can often make it hard to tell if a person has dementia; particularly if you don’t spend a lot of time with them.  Even then, not everyone will appear to have the common symptoms and if they do, they can occur at different stages.  After going back home and looking again into FTD I didn’t find that this lady had the typical symptoms of this form of dementia.  I now know it is important to bear in mind that everybody is unique and may therefore respond in different ways.

 

What can you do to help?

Loss of memory can make dementia difficult to recognize, particularly during the early stages.  As most of us are aware, memory tends to decline with age but to make things more confusing, there are other factors which can impact on memory; such as stress, tiredness and grief.  It can be even more difficult to spot during the early stages as some of the other symptoms, such as problems with dressing, toileting and mental arithmetic; don’t always occur until later on. Having said this, everyone is different – some people have no memory problems during the early stages at all!

It is very easy to get carried away in our own lives, sometimes unaware of what is going on with the people around us.   If you have the slightest suspicion that someone you know could be suffering from dementia, the first thing I would recommend is to stop, look and listen.

  • STOP what you are doing in your own life and spend more time with your loved ones
  • LOOK carefully at what they are doing, i.e. take notice of how they carry out their day to day tasks
  • LISTEN to what they are saying. Sometimes dementia sufferers can get sentences muddled up or say things that aren’t true.

 

Knowing some of the key facts such as about who is most likely to be affected and the factors which may trigger dementia can help to catch it early and potentially prevent it developing in the first place.  There are hundreds of articles and reports about dementia, which can be found online as well as in books for example, so nowadays it is pretty easy to keep up to date on some of the most relevant and ‘need to know’ information.  Signs and symptoms may not always show, often making it difficult to discover.  Getting an early diagnosis can increase the chance of leading a better quality of life for dementia sufferers, as the symptoms can be prolonged given the right treatment.  It also gives loved ones more opportunity to make plans for the future.

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