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Dementia is a term used to describe the loss of memory, reduced language skills, impaired reasoning and loss of daily living skills that arises because of irreversible and progressive deterioration of brain function. Changes to behaviour and emotions are also common. There are more than 100 different types of dementia. The most common types are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy body disease.
In Australia, dementia affects approximately 10% of persons aged over 65 years, and almost 50% of people over 80 years. By 2030 it is predicted to rise to approximately 591,500 people which is almost double from current statistics.
A Finnish study has found that people who harbour a cynical distrust of others are more than twice as likely to develop dementia later in life. Believing that others are motivated by selfish concerns has previously been linked to heart disease, but this study is the first o draw a link between cynicism and dementia.
The diagnosis may be a shock when first delivered and you will need a great deal of reassurance and support. However, there is much that you can do in the early stages that can help to make life easier and more enjoyable to manage now and in the future.
Our experience indicates that most people are happiest to manage the disease within their own home environment. To achieve this, it may be necessary to make some changes to their home or to use new equipment and/or technology that has been designed to enable people with dementia to remain independent for longer or make it easier for others to give support.
It is also a great idea to organise the person’s financial and legal responsibilities whilst they still are capable early in the diagnosis as dementia is a degenerative condition.
When a person with dementia finds that their mental abilities are declining (or often it is those closest to them that find this), they often feel vulnerable and in need of reassurance and support. The people closest to them (including their carers, friends and family) need to do everything they can to help the person to retain their sense of identity and feelings of self-worth.
It is absolutely vital to maintain healthy lifestyle through eating properly and some exercise for any sufferers. The better they feel, the more they can enjoy life, making life more pleasurable for all. Our carers are always sensitive to keeping the dignity of the person with dementia when handling the daily tasks of bathing and dressing them. Often a sufferer will not realise that they have forgotten those simple tasks of being fully dressed in their usual manner and style.
There are so many changes that occur along the way when caring for someone with dementia that it can be difficult for carers to deal with their feelings. It is a prime reason for many relationship breakdowns and strain on the children to see the decline of their beloved parents.
Sometimes a person with dementia is prone to wandering off and then forgetting where they came from. As the disease deepens, then there may be a need to consider other accommodation options to keep them safe. It is important to remember that it is not their fault and be gentle with them.
Often their behaviour can be unexplained, radical and embarrassing so due care and patience is often required. When you understand the meaning behind the behaviour, then it is easier to remain calm and manage the person better. Those with dementia can also suffer from depression, anxiety or agitated states, aggression, hallucinations and false ideas, and loss of inhibition. It is quiet common for sleep patterns to be interrupted due to changes in their brain’s biological clock and some medications.
Communicating with some who has dementia can cause some difficulties especially if their hearing or eyesight is not fully functioning. You will need to exercise some patience, remain calm and allow them time to respond. They still have feelings and emotions even though they may not always display them. It is advisable to use short, simple sentences and help orientate them without arguing or being condescending. We have found the best results come from being in a quiet environment.
Dementia also loves routine and familiarity which is why keeping the person in their own home environment and maintaining some independence for as long as possible is the best outcome. By introducing a carer along with a specialist doctor to assist in the management, will make the whole disease much easier for everybody affected too.