Sunday 26 May 2013

Why we need to keep talking about dementia...

Dementia Awareness Week may now be over, but the message continues - Talk Dementia. All of us who have been affected by dementia - living with, caring for, and medical, health and care professionals - need to keep spreading the word.

The number of people living with dementia, will continue to rise. Earlier diagnosis, increased longevity, and early onset, will result in a greater number of people needing to know more about dementia. At the moment, many of us, outside the medical, health and care services, and indeed some within these services, are provided with precious little information about the condition. We often have to find this information, for ourselves.

This needs to change, and is changing. Thanks to initiatives, like Dementia Friends, more and more people, are learning about dementia. But, we still have a long way to go, and very little time.

I personally, in my own family, have encountered two of the most common forms of dementia. My Uncle died as a result of Alzheimer's Disease, and my Mum, my Uncle's sister, now has vascular dementia. Thanks to my Uncle's dementia, I learned to recognise some of the signs and symptoms, indicating that a person may have dementia. I later saw some of these in Mum, which eventually led to the diagnosis of her dementia.

Looking back, my Uncle was cared for in a completely different way, from the way in which I now care for my Mum. Fairly early on, he was placed in a nursing home - his wife had decided she could no longer cope with his behaviour, and his wandering. Whilst I have no first hand evidence of the way my Uncle was treated - he was in Blackpool, whilst we were in Sussex - from what I have gathered, much of his behaviour was controlled by medication.

My Mum, by comparison, only has medication to treat the illnesses which caused her dementia, along with Vitamin B Complex tablets. She has, Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension and Hypothyroidism.

Her behaviour, which is rarely a problem, is not controlled using medication. I try to stimulate her now reduced cognitive abilities, with activities, music and entertainment, along with discussions about whichever subject she chooses. I try to engage with her as much as possible, and, where necessary, play along with what she is saying, or what she wants.

My aim, is to keep her feeling happy, loved and safe.

Although some hospitals and care homes, are now changing the way they treat patients with dementia, there is still much room for improvement. Hospitals can be frightening places for many of us, even more so, for those with dementia. They are easily confused and frightened when confronted with unfamiliar surroundings, and strange people, who don't communicate or engage with them, in a friendly, understanding manner.

For many years, there have been children's wards, and children's nursing and medical teams. A similar approach is needed for patients with dementia. They need people who understand their condition, an environment in which they feel safe, and friendly staff who can communicate, engage and understand their needs.

Through talking about it, we can help medical, health and care professionals, and the wider population, understand dementia. We all need to learn about the journey, which through no choice of their own, people living with dementia, have embarked upon. One day, many of us may have to follow in their footsteps.

We must keep talking dementia - the journey goes on.

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