There are many myths surrounding Dementia, and unfortunately the lack of understanding by everyday people of what dementia is and how to treat people with dementia, can not only make life (unnecessarily) difficult for people with dementia, but is also contributing to the increased risks of dementia as a whole.
Laura Ruffell, one of our Wills & Probate specialists, recently attended a Dementia Friends training session held by local care provider, Clarke Clare, to learn more about dementia and the small ways in which individuals can help lessen the stress and impact of the disease.
Below, she shares some of the things she learnt during her training and how you can also become more dementia friendly…
What is a Dementia Friend?
A Dementia Friend learns a little bit more about what it’s like to live with dementia and then turns that understanding into action – anyone of any age can be a Dementia Friend. From telling friends about Dementia Friends to visiting someone you know living with dementia; every action counts (www.dementiafriends.org.uk).
What is Dementia?
Many people are unaware of just how diverse Dementia is, and wrongly believe that it is just something that happens to people when they get old.
This is not true.
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions affecting the brain. Whilst most common amongst the elderly, it can actually affect anyone at any time. There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
“Dementia is the term used to describe a set of symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by disease.” – Alzheimer’s Society
Types of Dementia
‘Dementia’ can take many forms and it doesn’t just manifest itself as ‘bad memory’, although this is one of the telling signs.
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.
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.
Below is an overview of some of the illnesses that can cause dementia, beginning with the most common:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
- Young-onset dementia
- Korsakoff’s syndrome (Alcohol-Related Brain Damage)
- Mild Cognitive Impairment
- Huntingdon’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease dementia
It’s the little things that count
Whilst many people with dementia have difficulty remembering recent facts and figures and can get confused from time to time, one thing worth remembering is that they still maintain the same thoughts and feelings, from joy or happiness to anger to loneliness or agitation.
This makes it so important to be mindful of how they are feeling and no matter how frustrating things may be for you, not to get annoyed or view them as simply being ‘difficult’. The feelings experienced by a person with dementia are very real, no matter how unfounded they may appear to you.
Dementia not only affects a person’s memory, but can impact upon their very perception of reality. Often everyday encounters or objects are perceived very differently to a person with dementia, these include seemingly innocuous items such as black or dark ‘welcome mat’ or patterned/swirly carpets. To a person with dementia, these often appear as a ‘black hole’ or vortexes and can be very distressing.
5 facts about Dementia
1. Dementia is not simply a ‘natural part of aging’
2. It is a condition caused by diseases of the brain
3. Dementia isn’t just ‘memory loss’
4. It’s possible to live well with Dementia – labelling someone as a Dementia ‘Sufferer’ is not reflective of reality
5. There is much more to a person than their Dementia – it does not and should not define them
What can YOU do to become more Dementia Friendly?
Being dementia-friendly doesn’t have to mean making dramatic changes or going out of your way to ‘do things’ for people with dementia – it’s the small, everyday considerations that make a difference – ensuring that the society we all live in is inclusive to all.
So, what can you do to ensure that you and your local community are as dementia friendly as possible?
- Spread the word about Dementia Friend training and encourage your friends and family to get involved.
- Visit loved ones with dementia more often – even if they are sometimes forgetful or confused as to who you are, a visit will help combat any feelings of loneliness
- Provide opportunities for the person to have conversations and relationships with other people – being social is a huge factor in not only reducing the risks of dementia but promoting the wellbeing of a person with the disease
- It can be frightening to see the behaviour of a friend or family member change if they have dementia – but remember, it can be frightening for them too, so try not to let your own feelings of fear or frustration prevent you from being there for them
- Be sensitive to the feelings of somebody with dementia – if they suddenly decide they don’t want to go outside for example, don’t try to force them. Remember, the perception of reality can change for somebody with dementia, so even if you don’t understand why, respect their wishes. This doesn’t mean that they will never want to go out.
- Be wary of treating a person with dementia as a child. This is often a natural reaction, but many people with dementia will still pick up on this and become upset.
- Make a concerted effort to include a person with dementia in your conversations, and don’t speak about them as if they weren’t there. Think about how you would feel if somebody did this to you.
- Have patience with people who have dementia. We could all learn to be more patient and tolerant with others as it is and those with dementia, who may take longer to say or do something, will often require more patience.
- Be conscious of your surroundings and remove anything that could be perceived as worrying or scary to a person with dementia. Try to look at situations from their point of view.
- Ensure the person has the chance to try new things or take part in activities they enjoy.
The Alzheimer’s Society provides some useful advice for caring for a person with dementia.