DEMENTIA affects more than 800,000 people in the UK.
It’s not a disease but a collection of symptoms that are caused by damage to the brain.
The damage is done by diseases such as Alzheimer’s – the most common cause of dementia – or things such as trauma and reduced blood flow to the brain.
During the pandemic, we have seen many people with dementia deteriorate as a result of lockdown.
Changes to their routines, and being confined to home and more isolated, have taken a toll.
If you haven’t seen a parent or grandparent for a while, any changes in their condition might be all the more obvious.
Lockdown may have served as a magnifying glass if you suspect your partner or parent is showing early signs of dementia.
There are different types of dementia and they can affect people in different ways.
Like with many conditions, everyone will experience their symptoms in their own way.
But, there are some common early symptoms that can start to show some time before someone is diagnosed with dementia. They include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Finding it hard to carry out familiar everyday tasks, such as getting confused over paying at the supermarket and counting change
- Struggling to find the right words or finding it hard to follow a conversation
- Being confused about the time and where you are
- Mood changes
Often it’s the classic things like forgetting where your car keys are, asking the same questions over and over, or forgetting important dates and events.
It could be that you start to notice a family member is more withdrawn or is more irritable.
Older memories tend to be preserved, so they may not know who the current Prime Minister is but remember Margaret Thatcher being in power.
When it comes to dementia, something people are often scared to do is put a label on it. It can be really frightening and, for many people, the fear of finding out can delay their getting help.
But, like with lots of other chronic conditions, it is really important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.
The earlier it is diagnosed, the sooner you can start medication and treatment – and the longer you can stay well. It also means you can get access to support earlier, which can make a huge difference to loved ones.
As the condition progresses, this support is vital, be it respite care or having carers come in to help with looking after your husband, wife or parent.
I see lots of patients who end up as carers for their spouse or parent. It is an incredible thing to do but can also place a huge amount of pressure on the carer.
Accepting help isn’t giving up. It is part of looking after yourself, which is incredibly important.
If you are the carer, keeping yourself well and looking after your mental health is not selfish, it is something that will benefit your loved one with dementia, and it will help you maintain your relationship as husband, wife, daughter or son.
Given dementia affects so many people, it is important to know there are things we can all do to lower our chances of ever having to face it ourselves.
There is really good evidence that living a healthy lifestyle can drastically reduce our risk.
A recent update from the Lancet commission confirmed that things like a healthy diet, avoiding type 2 diabetes, reducing high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption and stopping smoking can all make a big difference.
Studies have also shown moderate exercise just once a week – be it a fast walk or some vigorous gardening – can reduce your risk by 20 per cent.
The good news is, it’s never too late to start making small changes that could make a big difference.
But if you’re worried or want more advice, talk to your GP.
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