DEALING WITH DEMENTIA
Crawford Little – Regional Involvement Officer for the Dementia Friendly Communities Project in Dumfries and Galloway.
The Dumfries and Galloway Multicultural Association is working with User and Carer Involvement in Dumfries & Galloway to ensure that people affected by dementia from ethnic minorities are getting the treatment and support they need and are entitled to.
An older relative or friend may be getting more forgetful, or struggling with everyday tasks. It shouldn’t be ignored. They could be experiencing the early symptoms of dementia.
Today in the UK, nearly one million people are living with dementia. It typically affects men and women over the age of 65, but can also affect younger people. We do not know yet exactly what causes dementia. However, we can say that as a general principle, dementia develops when cells in the parts of your brain involved with mental ability become damaged. Damage to these cells can be caused by:
• diseases and infections that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer`s disease or meningitis
• pressure on the brain, for example a brain tumour
• lack of blood and oxygen supply to the brain, for example due to a stroke
• or a head injury.
Symptoms can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with. But for someone with dementia, over time they will become severe enough to affect daily life.
Each person will experience dementia in their own way, and the various types of dementia affect people differently, especially in the early stages. They may have problems with:
• recalling recent events
• keeping track of the day or date
• knowing where they are
• finding the right word, or following a conversation
• solving problems and making decisions
• concentrating or planning
• carrying out a sequence of tasks, such as cooking a meal
• and judging distances – perhaps on stairs.
They may have changes in their mood – becoming frustrated, irritable, withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. As the dementia progresses, they may develop unusual behaviours such as repetitive questioning, pacing, restlessness or agitation. Changes in sleep pattern and appetite are also common.
In the later stages, they may have physical symptoms such as muscle weakness or weight loss, and will need more and more support to carry out everyday tasks. Some cultures and religions encourage families to look after their older relatives, without outside help – but dementia can become too severe for a family to cope with on their own.
An early diagnosis will allow all involved to make important arrangements for the future. Information, advice and support are available for the person and their carers (family and/or friends) to help them maintain their independence and live well for years after their diagnosis.
Assessment and Diagnosis
Becoming forgetful does not necessarily mean a person has dementia. It can also be a sign of stress, depression or certain physical illnesses. However, anyone who is worried about themselves or a relative should discuss their concerns with their General Practitioner. Typically, the GP will make an initial assessment and, if necessary, refer the person to a specialist service for a more detailed assessment.
If the cause is dementia, a diagnosis has many benefits. It provides someone with an explanation for their symptoms, gives access to treatment, advice and support, and allows them to prepare for the future and plan ahead. Knowing the type of dementia may allow appropriate treatments to be offered.
The vast majority of causes of dementia cannot be cured. However, there is a lot that can be done to enable someone with dementia to live well with the condition. Support for the person and their carer after a diagnosis should give them a chance to talk things over with a specialist, ask questions about the diagnosis, and prepare for the future. Information should be given on where to get help if needed in the future, and how to stay physically and mentally well. For example, cognitive rehabilitation can enable an individual to retain mental skills and raise their confidence.
There are drugs that can help to improve the symptoms of dementia or that, in some cases, may stop them progressing for a while. However, health professionals will generally advise that a non-drug approach is tried first before prescribing medication.
There is also lots that can be done at home to help someone with dementia remain independent and live well with memory loss. Activities that help to keep the mind active are popular. It is vital that people with dementia stay as active as they can – physically, mentally and socially. Everyone needs meaningful activities that they enjoy doing, and that maintain confidence and self-esteem.
If you would like to know more about the Dementia Friendly Communities Project in Dumfries & Galloway, or have concerns about yourself, a relative, or a member of your community and want to discuss the matter confidentially, contact Crawford Little:
Crawford Little, Regional Involvement Officer, Dementia Friendly Communities Project, User and Carer Involvement, Office 1, Kindar House, The Crichton, Bankend Road, Dumfries, DG1 4ZZ
Telephone: 01387 255330 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.userandcarer.co.uk