Dealing with Dementia

With an estimated 800,000 people in the UK currently suffering from some form of dementia, with that figure expected to rise to over a million within the next decade, dealing with dementia is something an increasing number of us will face, either directly, or affecting our loved ones.

Difficult to diagnose, particularly in the early stages of dementia, it's perhaps not surprising that 44% of people never have a formal diagnosis (source: Alzheimer's UK). Quite often, forms of dementia in younger sufferers are mistaken for other illnesses, or just passed off as too much stress at work, or naturally "becoming forgetful".

The statistics get more alarming - dementia figures double with every five year age group, and something like 80% of care home residents are suffering from some form of dementia. Add in that around a third of people over the age of 95 have dementia, and the picture looks bleak for anyone planning to live a long and healthy life.

Although a GP will take care of the medical side of any treatment, there is much someone in the early stages of dementia can do to continue to live a full, enjoyable, and active life for a long while to come. Discussing any care plans with friends and family is essential, as is a certain amount of practical end of life planning.

Accessing memories through music has been shown to be particularly effective when dealing with dementia. Charities such as Lost Chord train experienced professional musicians to work with dementia sufferers in a concert environment. Operating in South Yorkshire, London and Wales, the interactive music sessions are offered to residential care units, dementia wards in hospitals, and to day centres, with families encouraged to attend, particularly where the sufferer may have become distressed when confronted with strangers. Reactions can be startling, especially from people in the more advanced stages of dementia. Accessing a different part of the brain to speech, someone who can no longer make conversation will often remember all the words to a popular song from their youth. The stimulation of memory in this way dramatically improves a dementia sufferer's quality of life. Involving people by asking them to play simple percussion instruments, or to conduct the musicians gives them considerable confidence, a trait which can vanish alarmingly quickly post-diagnosis.

A dementia diagnosis can be devastating - telling friends and family can be almost impossible, and sadly, for some there can be a considerable amount of shame attached to admitting that they are getting forgetful, even leading to them hiding symptoms and events from loved ones for as long as possible. Maintaining a routine and as normal a life as possible can be both helpful and comforting - sticky notes on cupboards serve as a useful reminder to pay bills, do shopping, or even simply eat meals and take medication.

Dementia is devastating, and cannot ultimately be managed at home, especially if the patient becomes aggressive or violent in their behaviour, and home carers should guard against becoming burnt out and ill themselves. However distressing it may be to eventually consider residential care, a combination of routine and regular activities will help to maintain a decent quality of life for as long as possible.