So what is dementia?
Dementia is actually an umbrella term used to describe a number of progressive neurological disorders that affect the brain. There are astonishingly over 200 subtypes of dementia with the 5 most common being Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.
What causes dementia?
The brain is made up of nerve cells that communicate with each other by sending messages. Dementia actually damages the nerve cells in the brain which means that messages cannot be sent effectively and that prevents the body from functioning as it normally would.
It doesn't matter which type of dementia a person is diagnosed with or which part of the part of the brain that it affects, every sufferer will experience dementia in their own way.
When can it be diagnosed?
Commonly dementia is diagnosed in people over the age of 65, however, it can affect a person at any age so it's worth seeing your GP if you are worried.
What symptoms should I look out for?
Memory problems - You may notice that people with dementia may get lost in places they were previously familiar in or struggle with names of people that they know. They may also have difficulty retaining new information and increasingly misplace things.
Communication - People that have dementia can have difficulty verbally expressing themselves or finding the right words and may often repeat themselves. You may also notice a difference in their personality where they can suffer from mood swings, depression and anxiety. You may find that they are no longer interested in social interactions, become withdrawn and their self confidence can also become affected.
Cognitive ability - Some people with dementia can suffer with timelines. For example you may find them getting ready for bed at 2 in the afternoon or waking up in the middle of the night to get ready for work, the school run, shopping etc. Their concentration may also be affected so things like making a list or watching a programme or film from start to finish can be tricky.
In some cases the ability to make decisions, reason and manage their own affairs can be affected.
How do I get a diagnosis?
If you feel that a loved one or yourself may be suffering from some of the symptoms and are concerned it is important to see your GP as soon as possible. Some conditions have similar symptoms to dementia(ie, infections, vitamin B12 deficiency, sleep apnoea etc) but if diagnosed quickly they can be treated without long term problems.
To decide if someone is suffering from dementia, the GP will find out any family and medical history, asking about behaviour and mood changes along with screening them for mental health and cognitive issues by asking questions, testing short term memory, concentration.
If, deemed necessary the GP will requests an MRI or CT scan and/or blood tests. In some cases a referral may also be made to a memory clinic or specialist for further investigation and/or assessment.
If after all of the above is completed and a diagnosis of dementia is given then the GP will ensure that the person with the diagnosis and family or carer is signposted to services in the local area that are able to help and support both the patient and the family. You should also be referred for further assessments and treatments that may be beneficial.
How can I help and support my loved one?
You may feel that you don't have much to offer or don't know what to do but just by being there you are being a huge help. If your loved one starts talking about events that happened in the past as if they were yesterday, go with it. Try not to raise your voice or speak too quickly around them as it can confuse and agitate them. Have pictures to hand so that you can talk about people and gently remind them of names and relationships to them. Some of the websites below offer more information on what you can do to help
When going through the process of getting a dementia diagnosis there is so much information to take in and medical terms that are bounded about that it can seem like you are drowning but don't be scared to ask professionals to slow down or use language that you understand. Also, once you have a diagnosis don't be afraid to ask for help. It can all seem so overwhelming but there are organisations, charities and people out there who can offer you support and guidance.
Below are a a couple of organisations that will be able to offer you help and advice regarding dementia but remember to check out what facilities that you have locally as it varies from borough to borough.
If you or anyone you know is going through this, my heart goes out to you and I hope that you have found this post useful. Feel free to pop me a message if you want to chat, my inbox is always open!