There are around 800,000 people in the UK who have dementia.
The chance of developing dementia increases significantly with age. One in 14 people over 65 years of age, and one in six pepole over 80, has dementia. It is more common among women then men.
Over 17,000 younger people (under the age of 65) in the UK have dementia. This is called early-onset or young-onset dementia.
Dementia occurs when the brain is affected by a disease. It’s not a normal part of ageing.
Dementia affects everyone differently and can cause a wide range of symptons. These can include problems with memory, thinking, concentration and language. People may become confused or struggle with how they perceive things.
Dementia can also cause changes in mood or emotions and affect how someone behaves.
Dementia is progressive, which means that symptoms get worse over time. However, many people with dementia lead active and fulfilling lives for many years.
There are many different types of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, which are sometimes combined (called mixed dementia). Less common are dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.
There are also some rarer conditions that cause dementia. Together, they account for only about five per cent of all people with dementia.
Various factors increase the risk of someone developing dementia. Ageing, genes, health and lifestyle all play a part. Most people with dementia are over 65 years of age, but dementia does not also affect younger people.
Some people are diagnosed with a condition call mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
The causes symptons that are similar to dementia, but aren’t as serious. People with MCI have a higher risk of developing dementia, but not all of them will.
There is no known cure for dementia, but there are drugs and other therapies that can help with some of the symptons. With a combination of these, lots of people can live well with dementia for many years. Four drugs have been developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
A person with vascular dementia will usually be prescribed drugs to treat any underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart problems.
People with dementia can also benefit from approaches that don’t involve drugs. One example is reminiscence therapy, which involves talking about things from the past, using prompts such as photos or music. Another example is cognitive stimulation, which might involve doing word puzzles or discussing current affairs.
People with dementia may experiance depression or anxiety. They are often prescribed antidepressant medication and may be offered talking therapies, such as councelling or cognitive behavioural therapy.
If you’ve been diagnosed with dementia, there are lots of things you can do that will help you to live as well as possible.
To help cope with memory problems you could try using a large diary, and perhaps keeping it next to a calender clock. Also try keeping important items, such as keys or glasses, togrther in the same place.
Try to make your home safer. Remove things that are east to trip over and install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms. You could also get automatic timers for plugs, lights and heating.
Try to stay active and social: it can help you retain skills and memory, as well as improve your self-esteem, sleep and wellbeing. Wherever possible, keep doing what you enjoy, even if you have to do it a little differently.
Ask an occupational therapist (a healthcare professional who supports peolpe to maintain everyday skills) for advice on activities.
Having dementia doesn’t mean you feel unwell or depressed. It’s important to try and stay healthy. Regular excercise and eating a balanced diet can help. If you smoke, try to stop.
Arrange regular checkups with your GP, as well as regular dental, eye and hearing checks.
Get the annual flu vaccine and see the doctor promptly if you feel unwell.
After you’ve had time to adjust to your diagnosis, make sure financial and other affairs are in good order.
There are things you can do to make managing money easier. Talk to your bank about a ‘third-party mandate’ which will allow someone else to deal with yout bank account. Consider geting a ‘chip and signature’ card, so you don’t have to rememeber a PIN number.
You and your carer may be entitled to a range of benefits. If you have dementia you may be eligible for Attendance allowance, or (if under 65) Disability Living Allowance or the new Personal independance payment. Your carer may also be eligible for Carer’s allowance. ask social services, a Citizens Advice Bureau or Age UK for advice.
Now is the time to plan ahead and talk to others about the future. If you’re able, try to do it as soon as you can.
Make sure you have an up-to-date will. consider setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney. This will allow someone you trust to make decisons on your behalf if you’re no longer able to.
To have your say in future medical care, you can also set up an advance decision. Talk to your GP or solicitor about this.
If you drive, you must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Great Britain or Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland (DVLNI) about your diagnosis. You must also tell you car insurer.
If you’re working when you’re diagnosed with dementia, you may choose to carry on doing so.
It’s important to talk to your employer. If you stop working or reduce your hours, you may be eligible for some further benefits.
Services for people with dementia
There is support available to help you live well and stay indepenent for as long as possbile.
The main sources of information and support are the NHS, social services, private companies, and charities and not-for-profit organistions.
To find services in your area, start by contacting the local memory service, social services department, GP, Alzheimer’s Society or Citizens Advice Bureau. NHS Choices also provides details of local services.
Organisations such as Alzheimer’s Society and Age Uk can support people with dementia, their familes and carers in a range of ways.
These include demntia support workers and support groups, telephone helplines and information materials.
Lots of different health and social care professionals can support you – from community nurses to social workers and dementia support workers.
If you need non-medical support at home, the first step is to ask social services for a community care assessment.
Social services will draw up a care plan that looks at how they can meet your needs. They may charge for some services or they may cover the costs, possibly in the form of a personal budget or direct payment (money from the local authority that you can use to pay for your care and support).
There are some servies specifically designed for the different needs of younger people with dementia. Your memory clinic, GP or local Alzheimer’s Socety can tell you abuot what is available.
Support for carers
Caring for someone with dementia can be very stressful and at times upsetting, but also rewarding.
Carers often go through a wide range of emotions, including loss, guilt and anger. They may also have positive feelings, such as satisfaction from being able to support the person with dementia.
A lot of information and advice is availiable to support you in your caring role. Sources of support for carers include famiy and friends, health professionals, memory services, social services, carers’ support groups and organisations such as Alzheimer’s society.
As a carer, it’s important to look after your own health and wellbeing. Try to eat a balanced diet, and to get enought sleep and excercise. Make sure you have enough time to yourself.
There are practical tips that can make caring for someone with dementia a little easier. For example, encourage the person to keep doing what they can to retain their independance.
When communicating, make eye contact, listen carefully, be aware of your body language and speak clearly.
As a carer, you may well find changes in the person’s behaviour difficult to cope with. this might include them repeating themselves, following you, pacing and shouting out. Keep in mind that they aren’t doing these things deliberately, and try not to take it personally. They may be in pain or trying to tell you something, for example that they are bored or frustrated.
Talk to a doctor – ideally a specalist – about behaviour that is challenging or causing either of you distress or worry.
There are things that can be done to help.