When someone you love shows signs of dementia, it’s natural to worry about their health and how you will personally be able to cope with what lies ahead.
Supporting someone who is suffering with dementia can be both a rewarding and challenging experience. Education is a key part of this caring process as, the more you learn about dementia and memory loss, the better prepared you will be for the future.
In this blog, we will guide you through the journey of dementia diagnosis, including advice about ongoing support and care.
How is dementia diagnosed?
Dementia refers to a group of related symptoms that are characterised by a progressive decline of brain function with age. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, problem-solving, motivation, mood, sleep, personality and behaviour.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises dementia as a public health priority. Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year (WHO Dementia Factsheet).
Doctors consider a number of factors before coming to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. These include medical history provided by the GP, collateral history from a family member/carer/friend, blood tests, memory tests, brain scan results, mental state examination, and the ability to perform daily activities independently.
Here is a brief guide to the main types of dementia:
- Alzheimer’s disease: the most common cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s first affects short-term memory.
- Vascular dementia: the second most common type of dementia, it is caused by a reduced blood flow to the brain.
- Lewy bodies dementia (LBD): according to the Alzheimer’s Society, LBD accounts for up to 20% of all dementia. Symptoms include memory loss, visual hallucinations, difficulties with movement and very disturbed sleep.
- Dementia in Parkinson’s disease: patients with Parkinson’s disease have a higher-than-average risk of developing dementia. This accounts for 2% of all UK dementia cases.
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD): one of the less common types, it is sometimes called Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia. FTD affects two main areas: personality/behaviour and language.
- Young onset dementia: if you develop dementia under the age of 65, this is ‘young-onset dementia’. It affects more than 42,000 people in the UK (Alzheimer’s Society).
- Pseudodementia: also known as depression-related cognitive dysfunction, this is a condition where cognitive function can be temporarily decreased and it is reversible on antidepressant treatment.
Currently, there is no cure for dementia. However, there are a range of treatments available that can help with symptoms. By using a combination of these treatments, it can be possible to live well with dementia.
The dementia treatments include:
- Lifestyle changes to help with day-to-day activities
- Talking therapy, such as counselling
- Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST), which involves group activity sessions to stimulate mental activity
- Memory exercises, such as compiling a scrapbook life story or talking about favourite experiences.
Dementia support groups
Dementia sufferers and their carers are at risk of being isolated from the rest of society, so it is vital that they can access help from a range of sources, including:
- Family and friends: talk to those closest to you. Sharing your feelings is a positive way to deal with your situation.
- Professionals: your local GP is often the first port of call and they can refer you to other health professionals, such as a counsellor, psychotherapist or occupational therapist.
- Charities: organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society offer a range of support services. Call the Alzheimer’s Society on 0333 150 3456 or find them online.
- Day centres: search for local dementia support groups in your area. These often provide day centres or Alzheimer’s cafes where sufferers and carers can meet.
Coping strategies for dementia carers
Being a carer can have a massive effect on your personal mental and physical health, so it is essential that you have a strategy for looking after yourself. Consider the following:
- Diet: ensure that you have a balanced diet and eat at regular meal times. Stay hydrated and eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg.
- Fitness: caring for a dementia sufferer involves being indoors for hours on end. Try to keep physically and mentally fit by setting time aside for outdoor walks, gardening or fitness classes.
- Hobbies: from puzzles to painting, keep enjoying your own hobbies and interests.
- Sleep: it can be difficult to maintain a regular sleep pattern when you care for someone with dementia, so grab sleep when you can. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine can help you rest and relax.
- Respite care: it ranges from getting a volunteer or a paid carer to sit with the person you look after for a few hours to a short stay in a care home so that you can go on holiday; your local council can help you arrange respite care.
Worried about a loved one or family member?
If you are concerned that a loved one is suffering from memory loss, MemoryClinix offers a range of services that have been designed to provide the right diagnosis and treatment.
We can arrange an initial assessment with one of our qualified clinicians, who can then recommend the next step as we support you through the pre- and post-diagnosis process. This could be general advice, medical tests or a personal care plan.
Whether you are a sufferer, or know someone who has been diagnosed with dementia, we offer a range of virtual support services, including:
- Occupational therapy: involves an assessment to identify any emotional, behavioural and cognitive needs. Follow-up support may be necessary, such as sessions on managing dementia with practical solutions.
- Virtual cognitive stimulation therapy (vCST)*: sessions cover themed activities designed to improve the mental abilities and memory of people with mild to moderate dementia.
- Virtual carers support groups*: four coaching sessions per month to offer carers practical help, such as communication techniques, and personal support.
* Both the vCST and carers support group sessions are facilitated by our partners from Memory Matters, to whom we will refer our patients and family carers following an initial assessment and diagnosis.
Written By Barry Hunt
Reviewed by Dr Elin Davies, Consultant Psychiatrist