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Why we should all have dementia training

Rebecca, our social media whizz kid, recently went on a “Dementia Awareness in the Community” training programme run by local charity Alzheimer’s Dementia Support. She shares the practical tips she learnt for dealing with dementia and her new perspective on the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society there are over 800,000 people with dementia in the UK and a third of those people (over 260,000) live on their own in the community. They may have family, friends or carers who support them but often those who live alone remain undiagnosed and unaided.

After attending dementia training I realised that as a society we desperately need to learn more about the disease and the impact it has on people’s lives. There were about 20 of us at the session when I had expected there to be at least 30 or more attendees given how heavily dementia is currently featured on the news.

What I learnt is that you need to be prepared, preventative and proactive, as much as you can be, in case you’re faced with dementia in your life.

Being prepared

Although many of the world’s experts are poised on finding a cure it’s still a long way off and your parent may not be helped by these medical advancements in the meantime. Dementia is difficult to spot, especially when you’re convincing yourself your parent doesn’t have it but there are several symptoms we can watch for.

  • Location, location, location. Your parent may not remember where they live, where they left their car or they may come not to recognise their own home or their possessions.
  • Lost in time. They may feel lost if they don’t recall their surroundings as familiar or confused about the time and date which often happens when the mind regresses to an earlier period of time in their life.
  • Lack of communication. When a parent develops dementia, ordinary, fast flowing conversation can become increasingly confusing and hard to follow. Lots of questions and multiple choices can be intimidating and difficult to focus on.
  • Limited abilities. Sometimes when a parent develops dementia they may begin to forget how to do simple tasks such as getting dressed or become confused even at the prospect of choosing an outfit to wear for the day.
  • Losing value. There may come a time when your parent doesn’t understand the value of money or the quantity they need to pay for things. When this happens it may be time to see if they want to take shopping trips together.
  • A law unto themselves. If your parent’s dementia causes them to believe they’re younger than they are they might start wearing clothing that’s inappropriate for their age or even the time of year.

Preventing dementia

Unfortunately you can’t stop dementia from taking a hold but there are ways you can prevent it and come to understand the stages of progression.

  • Early diagnosis. Dementia is treated by the mental health service which is often stigma enough for parents to avoid seeking a diagnosis. Sometimes you and your parent are both aware that something’s not quite right but are fearful of a definitive diagnosis. No one wants to be defined by a diagnosis and treated differently but if you’re concerned your parent’s displaying signs on dementia talk to them about seeing a GP.
  • You are what you eat. Not everyone is in the habit of healthy eating and if your parent’s diet is lacking in fruit and veg as well as good foods full of omega-3 (found in fish) they could be putting their brains at risk. A healthy diet will help keep their mind and body nourished and active for longer as well as ward off high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Get fit. It’s never too late to start exercising even if your parent hasn’t always been an active type. Encouraging your parent to go for gentle walks with you can help to kick start their metabolism and help to break down unwanted fats that may be causing your parent to be sluggish both mentally and physically.
  • Alternative therapy. Activities such as reminiscence therapy and increased social interaction can help to stimulate your parent’s mind and hold their dementia at bay for a time. Complementary therapies can contribute to an overall treatment plan and enhance your parent’s life with dementia.
  • Medical treatment. Once your parent has received a conclusive dementia assessment from their GP they may be prescribed certain medications to manage their symptoms. Depending on how the dementia affects your parent they may be given antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants or “anti-dementia” medicines.

There are 5 stages of dementia, 0-4, which can progress slowly or quickly depending on the type of dementia your parent has. The early stages of dementia are often missed as symptoms can mimic forgetfulness whereas the later stages are more easily recognised by the level of confusion and repetitive actions a person displays.

Being proactive

You need to be watchful. I’m not saying that you need to be constantly on the lookout because dementia’s coming for you and for your loved ones but you do need to be aware of the warning signs and what you can do to help.

Communicating with someone who has dementia can be difficult the further along the disease is. It may be a frustrating and sometimes disheartening experience for both parent and child.

  • Touching moments. You may find that your parent is reassured by touch. Holding their hand or stroking their arm can be a way of letting them know your attention is focused on them and you care about what they’re trying to communicate.
  • Body language. Sometimes a person with dementia won’t be able to clearly tell you how they’re feeling or what’s wrong. Being aware that your parent’s body language may indicate if they’re upset or in pain
  • Validation. It’s always important to recognise how people are feeling and respond to them. If your parent can’t express themselves easily be watchful of how they display their emotions and let them know when you can identify them “I can see you’re feeling…”
  • Distraction. Too many distractions can cause your parent to struggle communicating. Removing background noise as well as speaking clearly, one sentence at a time, can help to eliminate confusion from conversations.

Dementia is different to how I’d imagined it. In the training session we watched a 12 minute video dramatising what it’s like to have dementia, from the viewpoint of the sufferer, and I have to say it was upsetting but enlightening.

Putting yourself in the shoes of a dementia sufferer is scary. It’s terrifying to imagine losing your memories and forgetting family but this is the reality of the situation for someone with the disease.

Thank you to Christine Price, ADS Advisor and Trainer, for leading the 2 hour session I attended. If you are interested in learning more about dementia I would thoroughly recommend attending a training session local to you.

Alzheimer’s Dementia Support is a charity based in Maidenhead providing practical guidance for those coping with dementia. For more information on the advice available or the events they run you can call Nicola on 079513762900 or email [email protected]. If you’d like to attend a free ‘Dementia Awareness in the Community’ training programme you can find a list of upcoming sessions here.

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