How to spot signs of dementia… And the next steps to take if you do
There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. By 2025 this number is expected to rise to just over 1 million. Dementia is a word used to describe a collection of symptoms that occur when brain cells stop functioning properly. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, but there are others. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, mood changes and difficulty with everyday tasks. One problem in recognising the various forms of dementia, is that it affects people in very different ways. However, some of the most common signs to look out for are:
Memory loss – a declining memory is probably one of the most easy to recognise symptoms. It is more than just being forgetful. As sadly a person who has dementia may not only forget someone's name but will also not be able to recognise that person as being their friend, neighbour or even relative.
Increase in dependency – another example is the increase in number of phone calls. Initially, it can appear quite normal but with time phone calls can escalate to the point whereby some family members stop answering their phone. Unfortunately, the caller's anxiety continues and they simply just call again.
Confusion with the time and place – people with dementia will often forget the day of the week, forget even where they live, or return to a home that they used to live in many years ago. Mood swings or unusual behaviour – a person with dementia may exhibit a change, or changes in their behaviour, becoming unusually emotional, irritable and experience sudden mood swings for no real apparent reason. Misplacing things – anyone can misplace or forget where their wallet or keys are, but a person who has dementia may put things in unusual places, without reason or logic for doing so. Additionally, someone who has dementia may seem to take on a completely different personality. They might become rude, offensive, oppositional, irritable, anxious, depressed and suspicious. The 'once upon a time' everyday routine becomes a trial – people with dementia often find that simple everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, washed, dressed and putting their clothes on in the right order, or the appropriate clothes for the right weather conditions no longer makes sense. Look out for things such as unopened post, unpaid bills/invoices and sudden strange changes in their diet. Generally, the older the person gets, the higher the risk becomes. People in their 80s-90s make up a large percentage of dementia cases. But do not assume that means younger mums/dads or grandparents are just having off days. Some people may start showing the first signs much earlier. Early onset dementia affects over 40,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK. If you think that any of the problems we have highlighted are affecting your daily life/routine, or the life of someone you know, then the best thing you can do is to address it as soon as possible and call Dementia UK for some advice. (1) If possible, it is best to discuss your concerns with your family and friends to let them know you are worried and have concerns. As they may also have noticed things as well. So having the support of family and friends is important to all concerned. (2) A quiet, caring and sympathetic chat with your loved one will help. As truth be told, they may be as scared and confused as you are and it's important that you remember this is happening to them and that they need to be involved as much as possible. (3) Lastly, you should encourage your loved one to visit and speak with their GP. Reassure them that they needn't go alone and that you will go with them. Perhaps, even make the GP appointment for them if easier. And remember that this is going to be a scary and upsetting experience for someone, so your patience and understanding is crucial. It is more likely going to be a distressing and possibly scary, worrisome conversation for someone. So always try to keep things as easy-going and relaxed as possible during the day. Do not do this in the evening, or at a time when they will be left alone afterwards so they do not work themselves into a panic. When addressing the situation, try asking questions like 'it's getting a bit harder to do the housework isn't it? or 'it's getting a bit harder for you to make lunch isn't it? And 'are you missing not being able to get out and about in town as much as you used to?' To stimulate your conversation. Never talk 'about' your loved one and their problems in front of them as if they aren't there. Avoid confrontation with words and phrases like 'I'm worried you are going to get hurt or lost' 'Mum, it's dangerous', 'yes but it makes you look silly doing it' etc. All of this will undoubtedly lead to a very swift, negative response and give you feelings of guilt.
Where you can find help: Family and friends – You can help provide the care, support and companionship your loved one needs via your family & friends. Being a carer can be very demanding, tiring and emotional, especially when you are close to them. There are a number of charities that can help support you. Carers UK is just one organisation who can provide you with help, guidance and support. Age UK is another.
Local government/council services – A GP or Social Worker will arrange an introduction to a council-funded care provider. However, sometimes this type of care will be standard because of the funding pressures now being faced by local councils. Private Homecare providers – Private care companies offer various levels of support to best suit the individual. Domiciliary care providers offer short visits which may be suitable for the early stages to provide a small amount of homecare, support and peace of mind. However, as things progress and mobility, memory and well-being declines, you might choose to look at other care options such as live-in care for 24-hour care. All of the above have one thing in common – and that is trying to keep your loved one in the comfort and familiarity of their own home. Studies have shown that caring for those with dementia at home significantly improves their quality of life. As continued, familiar surroundings and a feeling of normality can have a positive impact on health and well-being.