A general guide to the symptoms and care of those with Dementia
Dementia is a syndrome; this means that it consists of many symptoms with varying intensities and progression, which can have differing effects on the individual. What one person with dementia experiences may not be the same as another person does. There are several causes of dementia; Alzheimer’s disease being the most common cause, closely followed by Stroke. The specific symptoms a person experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that have been damaged and the disease that has caused the dementia. Dementia is a progressive, terminal disease.
The term “dementia”, describes a series of symptoms that include loss of and difficulty in accessing memory (short & long-term); difficulty with other cognitive abilities such as problem-solving; processing language; mood changes and changes in the capacity to exhibit appropriate behaviours. Dementia is caused by the degeneration and death of brain cells at a rate that far exceeds the natural ageing process of those cells. The trigger for the degeneration is usually due to a buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain. Degeneration of brain cells can cause a decline in mental state, as well as in physical abilities, including balance. The structure of the proteins is different for each of the different causes of dementia.
The first sign of dementia experienced or observed are problems with a person’s memory. It is natural for a person, at any stage of their life, to experience lapses in memory. Examples of this can be forgetting where you left your keys – easily caused by distraction making you leave them in a place where you normally wouldn’t, or forgetting someone’s name – perhaps you are seeing them in an unusual environment (a school teacher in the supermarket for example). It is when the severity of and regularity with which such lapses occur noticeably increases that perhaps it is time to consult your GP.
It is important to remember that Dementia is a progressive disease; symptoms will not appear overnight. Other symptoms may follow over time, and their severity may eventually reach a point at which it becomes so debilitating that it makes independent living difficult if not impossible. They may experience:
Difficulties in making rational decisions or may act impulsively (including where finances are concerned).
They may display a lack of understanding of “normal” or even dangerous situations.
A person’s natural empathy towards other people can reduce or even disappear altogether.
Concentration, particularly when reading, can suffer significantly.
Speech and writing can be difficult for others to understand and appear disjointed.
A general state of confusion can arise, even in everyday situations.
Impatience and irritability with others is a common symptom.
After experiencing difficulties with memory, it is not unusual to experience problems with social situations. It is possible at this point that aspects of personality may change to the point that someone who was understanding and supportive now lacks empathy and interest in other people. In fact, they may become disparaging about other people to the point of rudeness.
It is also quite common for someone with early stage dementia to appear to tell untruths on occasion. This can be partly due to memory problems and partly due to their lack of compassion and understanding of others.
At this point, it may seem that the person with dementia is quite unpredictable. They may find the process of planning and organisation of projects, time and their belongings progressively difficult. They may shun help as it can be seen by them that friends and relatives are trying to take their independence away from them. At this point, they may need help with any decision making as they may not have the clarity of thought to come to a conclusion.
Initially, the assessment will involve a set of standardised questions from your GP, the answers to which will determine the need, or not, for additional testing. Further dementia assessment may require more in-depth family medical history; additional questions and blood tests. Finally, you may be referred for a brain scan to diagnose the cause of dementia and develop a full prognosis. It is worth noting that there are websites online which contain the basic test questions. These can be useful in the very early stages, as a gentle introduction to the idea of dementia, which in itself can be a frightening prospect.
Although there is no cure, for many forms of dementia, once a diagnosis is made, then there is treatment and support available to help slow down the process and to help the patient and their family plan for the future. Many people who have been given a dementia diagnosis can live a full and active life, free from some of the more debilitating symptoms. For some people knowing what is wrong with them can give them some form of peace of mind and reduce much of the anxiety that they have been experiencing.
Cognitive therapies which can help with managing Dementia include: Art Therapy – to help with stimulating the creative side of the brain and support decision making, Memory Therapy – to aid long term memory and to help accurate recollections, Sensory – by using tactile experiences, which may be art related but can include culinary skills, Cognitive skills therapy – this may include learning a new skill, a new language or revisiting a skill not used for some time such as knitting (which also helps muscle memory).
In the UK there are around 800,000 people that have dementia. Research has determined that by 2021 the number will have increased to 1 million.
It is predicted that 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 will develop dementia.
Two-thirds of people suffering from dementia are female.
Dementia is a term that is used to describe a group of symptoms that occur when the brain cells stop working properly.
At Advinia, you can be assured that each and every member of our care staff are highly trained and experienced with all aspects of Dementia. We believe that it is one of the largest health issues this country faces and as such we keep abreast of any and all new developments and research, ensuring that our residents and service users are treated with dignity as individuals. Our aim is to maintain their standards of living in a safe, understanding and compassionate environment.