Dementia is a common condition, affecting around 750,000 people in the UK, with numbers set to rise to one million by 2025.
It can be a highly upsetting and frustrating condition for both the sufferer and their loved ones.
This week’s column aims to help dispel some of the myths about the condition ahead of Dementia Awareness Week, which runs from July 3 – 9.
Dementia is associated with an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities.
Symptoms include memory loss, mood changes, communication problems, difficulty controlling emotions, behaving inappropriately in social situations and personality changes.
Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Society show that one in 50 people aged between 65 and 70 suffers from dementia. This increases to one in five for the over 80s.
Other risk factors include your medical history – for example, having high blood pressure could increase the likelihood.
Your family history, diet, alcohol consumption, levels of exercise and whether you smoke could also increase your risk.
One of the main problems with dementia is that it can be very difficult to spot, especially in the early stages.
If you think that you might be suffering from dementia, speak to your GP.
There are a range of tests that can be carried out, including a review of your personal and medical history, a full assessment of your mental abilities, blood tests, CT or MRI scans and a review of any medication you are taking. The tests are carried out by your GP and specialists.
If you are worried about the memory of a loved one, seek help as soon as possible.
Make an appointment for them to see their GP. Explain that they don’t need to feel scared or embarrassed.
If they are suffering from dementia, having a diagnosis will allow them to access advice, information and support for themselves and family members.
Unfortunately there is currently no cure for dementia. It’s a condition that gets worse over time.
There are however some things you can do to help people cope better and improve their quality of life:
· Encourage them to keep a diary and write down things they need to remember.
· Pin a weekly timetable somewhere obvious,
· Tell them to put keys in an obvious place, such as in a bowl next to the door,
· Have a newspaper delivered every day to remind them of the date and the day,
· Label cupboards and drawers so they know where everything is,
· Make sure they have a list of useful telephone numbers by the phone,
· Write reminders – for example try putting a note on the door so that they don’t forget to take their keys,
· Programme people’s names and numbers into their phone with a little description to remind them who those people are,
· Install safety devices such as gas detectors and smoke alarms,
· Most importantly, remember that advice and support is available for sufferers and their loved ones. Nobody needs to cope on their own.
There are currently no ways to stop yourself from getting dementia but there are a few things that you can do to lower your risk.
Living a healthy lifestyle by eating healthily, maintaining a healthy weight, doing regular exercise, if you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation, stopping smoking and checking and controlling your blood pressure could help.
It’s also important to remain as mentally and physically active as possible with a range of different activities and hobbies.
Try reading, writing for pleasure, learning a foreign language or a musical instrument or take up a sport like tennis, golf, swimming or walking.
For more information, visit nhs.uk/Conditions/Dementia/Pages/Introduction.aspx. For support and advice, see alzheimers.org.uk