According to the Alzheimer's Society, around 850,000 people are estimated to have dementia in the UK, and that number is expected to rise to 1 million by 2025. Although there have been recent improvements in the rates of diagnosis and new funds being developed to research the condition, people with dementia and their carers still find it hard to get good quality care and support in the UK. It often falls to the responsibility to the family to care for the person with dementia.
According to the NHS, different types of dementia can affect people differently, and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way. However, there are some common early symptoms that may appear some time before a diagnosis of dementia, including memory loss, difficulty concentrating, finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, struggling to follow a conversation, being confused and mood changes. These symptoms are often mild and may get worse.
You might not notice these symptoms if you have them, and family and friends may not notice or take them seriously for at first. For some people, these symptoms will remain the same and not get worse. Dementia is not a natural part of ageing, and this is why it's important to talk to your GP sooner rather than later if you're at all worried about yourself or a loved one.
In the early stages of dementia, many people are able to enjoy life in the same way as before their diagnosis, but as symptoms get worse the person may feel anxious, stressed and scared at not being able to remember things. This can be difficult for family and carers to deal with, but there are things you can do (with credit to the NHS website and Home Care Preferred) to help the person in need and make life a little easier.
1. Let the person with dementia help with everyday tasks, such as shopping and gardening. This will give them a sense of responsibility and normality. Memory aids used around the home can help the person remember where things are, for example you could put labels and signs on cupboards, drawers and doors.
2. Help them to prepare meals, make sure they have food in the fridge and remind them to eat and drink enough. People with dementia may not drink enough because they don't realise they're thirsty. This puts them at risk of urinary tract infections, constipation and headaches. Not eating enough can cause malnutrition and other medical complications.
3. Help them with using the toilet. People with dementia may often experience problems with going to the toilet. Sometimes the person with dementia may simply forget they need the toilet or where the toilet is. Try putting a sign on the toilet door or try to make going to the toilet part of a regular daily routine for your loved one.
4. Set a positive mood with the person with dementia. Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts more strongly than your words do. Use facial expressions, a positive tone of voice and physical touch to help convey your message and show your feelings of affection.
5. Ask simple, answerable questions. Ask one question at a time, those with yes or no answers work best. Refrain from asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices as this can be too confusing.
6. Break down activities into a series of steps for them. This makes everyday tasks much more manageable.
7. Remember the good old days. Remembering the past is often a soothing and affirming activity. Many people with dementia may not remember what happened 45 minutes ago, but they can clearly recall their lives 45 years earlier. Try asking general questions about the person’s past.
8. Maintain a sense of humor. Use humor whenever possible, though not at your loved one’s expense. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and are usually delighted to laugh along with you.
9. Ask for help. If you’re struggling, there are a number of charities and voluntary organisations which provide valuable support and advice on their websites and via their helplines:
• Alzheimer's Society's National Dementia Helpline, 0300 222 1122
• Age UK's Advice Line, 0800 055 6112
• Independent Age, 0800 319 6789
• Dementia UK Admiral Nurse Dementia helpline, 0800 888 6678
• Carers Direct helpline, 0300 123 1053
• Carers UK, 0800 808 7777