Caring about Dementia

 

Let's set the tone with a smile from Winkie, our mascot. Click on him to read more.

Dementia is a very wide term used for conditions affecting the ability of the brain to function effectively, particularly in its ability to remember and reason. It could be termed cognitive dysfunction. It is progressive and usually found in older people, though not all conditions are related to ageing. It is often accompanied by depression and sometimes aggression, which makes the situation very difficult to deal with. As someone has said, living with dementia in your life is living with a prolonged funeral.

Dementia is a term which tends to raise anxiety in both those who suffer from it and those who are in touch with them.  It seems to infer a type of madness that affects the ability to communicate and also a loss of a sense of place in life. There is a tendency to wander which means careful observation by carers. The person no longer seems totally human. However there are now more positive attitudes being promoted in our thinking about these mental states, seeing the condition as a challenge both in terms of relationships and medical intervention,
 

Changes in the brain.

Under this umbrella term you will find various conditions, all resulting from structural and chemical changes in the brain tissue which starts to die. So-called Alzheimer's disease, Vascular Dementia, mixes of the two and Lewey Body Dementia found in Parkinson's Disease are the most common. Most take years to develop which explains why it is prevalent in older people. To many it is a sentence of the death of normality, and along with this there is a stigma attached. 
 
When there is a hardening of the arteries in the brain ( called Vascular Dementia ) it is a slow process as the blood flow nourishing the brain cells is reducing and the person is usually unaware of his condition. In what some now call Alzheimer's Disease, amyloid plaque tends to be picked up. Early changes in cells may be detected  if symptoms are recognised as the person is usually acutely aware something is wrong. There may be a sudden loss of memory or the ability to know where you are. 
 

There are some 700,000 people suffering from a form of Dementia in the UK which is why there is now a concerted effort to deal with problem as soon as it is recognised. Care of some kind is inevitable, resulting in great costs and demands on all concerned

The Government has drawn up a strategy to deal with the situation. ( Living Well with Dementia. A National Strategy.) In particular they envisage:

  • Raising awareness and understanding of Dementia in professionals and the wider public leading to early diagnosis.
  • Prevention of degeneration of the blood vessels supplying blood to important parts of the body, especially the brain..
  • Early access to care.
  • Clear information on Dementia available to all

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • Dementia is not essentially a disease but can rather be accelerated signs of cognitive ageing and degeneration.
  • Dementia, signs of cognitive dysfunction, is common.
  • It is not necessarily the inevitable consequence of ageing.
  • Social environment is important.Quality of life is closely related to richness of relationships.
  • It is not an immediate death sentence and life can still be good.
  • There is much that can be done to improve the lives of those with elements of Dementia.
  • Folk suffereing from signs of accelerated conitive ageing and degeneration, usually memory loss to start with, can still make a useful contribution to society
  • Most of us will experience some form of Dementia either ourselves or those we know and care about.
  • We can all play a part in protecting and supporting people with Dementia

People are not strategies and may never be allowed to become statistics.

Care doesn't have to be difficult.'

Care doesn't mean doing things for them, rather assisting them to care for themselves.

Create an environment with the bustle of life going on from day to day. 

Give them useful tasks, involving them in the running of their home. Setting the table, peeling the vegetables, watering the pot plants, weeding the garden. Using our hands productively is known to be the best therapy for all.

Play music familiar to them, helping them relive past which is still real to them. You can access a programme of music with just this in mind as well as a chair-based exercise session on Silver Lining, a programme on the community radio station in Cambridge, Cambridge105 on 105FM.

A song to make you smile. Click here.

Poetry has been found to bring stimulation to those who are shut in themselves but also has a calming effect on those who are agitated. It seems they benefit from rhymes and rhythms, recalling poems from school days. Some care homes have found much benefit in having poetry reading groups.

Dementia cafes are happy meeting places for carers and the cared for. Run by Alzheimers Society there may be one near you.

Have a pet which will draw them out of themselves. Their withdrawal is not only because of their condition but also due to depression. Living with hopelessness is a living death.

It is living with Dementia which counts, not dying from it.

Here are some very supportive links:

 Alzheimer's Reading Room 

 Sharing a book with those that are in your care.

 Video showing a good example of such a life-affirming residential home. 

Some more stories of beloved toy animals

 

HOW TO REDUCE THE RISK OF DEVELOPING DEMENTIA.

First and foremost, look after your general health with as much activity as possible, mental and physical.

As long ago as 2005, research done in Sweden and reported in the Lancet of Neurology, proved conclusively that twice weekly half hours of activity sufficient to raise the heart beat and produce moderate breathlessness, was effective in curbing the development of vascular dementia and signs of escalated cognitive ageing.

Take less alcohol.

Stop smoking

Guard against excessive weight gain.

There is evidence to support cutting down on all three. (By the way cutting down chances of developing cancer)

Don't be afraid to raise the issue of dementia with family or health professionals. Facing reality is the first step to healing, which, though not complete, can make a difference to all concerned. 

There is an excellent booklet available from the Department ofHealth 'Living well with Dementia.  Telephone     0300 123 1002