6 important things to understand about dementia
- by Silver Chain Group
- Article date
- 6 September 2017
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6 important things to understand about dementia
Dementia is challenging many medical experts, but as we learn more about the condition, we are finding better ways to help those living with dementia to live their best life.
There are now 425,000 Australians living with the condition and a further 1.2 million people involved in the care of someone with dementia – but we can all play a part in giving people living with dementia the opportunity to remain engaged with their community and lead meaningful lives.
The first step for many people is understanding a bit more about the condition and how it impacts on the lives of people with a diagnosis, their families and carers. So here’s six things you should know about dementia:
There are more than 200 types of dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common.
There are many types of dementia but they are all conditions affecting the brain which invariably result in difficulties with: memory; communication, such as language or word finding; or perception.
According to Alzheimer’s Australia WA CEO Rhonda Parker, the question asked more than any other is ‘what’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?’
“Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of neurological conditions, where the major symptom includes a global decline in brain function,” Ms Parker explains. “Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, often beginning with lapses in memory and difficulty in finding the right words for everyday objects.”
Dementia is not exclusive to elderly people.
It is more likely to be diagnosed after the age of 65, but dementia can actually affect people at any point in their life. ‘Younger onset dementia’ can be diagnosed in people under the age of 65, impacting about 25,000 Australians.
No matter what age a person with dementia is, there are things we can all do to help connect with them, like communicating clearly and patiently. Find out some simple ways to help a person with dementia.
Your sense of smell is often the first sense to be affected.
Loss of your sense of smell, or anosmia, has long been believed to be a warning sign to prompt other cognitive tests to be conducted. Recent studies by the UK’s National Health Service and the US National Library of Medicine have highlighted the link between loss of smell and dementia, where those with a reduced sense of smell seemed to be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Though too small to be conclusive, the research contributed to increasing evidence that the neurodegeneration behind Alzheimer’s starts long before the onset of memory loss symptoms. If you do lose your sense of smell, don’t panic – it could be nasal congestion. However, early intervention is key, so it’s worth a trip to your GP to check.
Dementia does not always mean memory loss, and vice versa.
Dementia affects everyone differently but is almost always associated with memory loss. However, some types of dementia, such as Frontotemporal dementia, produce no true memory loss as is seen in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Ms Parker says families should be mindful of other symptoms, like noticeable and sustained personality changes, which can indicate these types of dementia.
On the other hand, it’s not unusual for people to become a little more forgetful as they age, however, memory lapses are very different to dementia. “Memory loss is frequently mistaken for the early signs of dementia in older Australians, when it can often be explained by other medical issues. Depression, for example, is equally likely to cause memory loss,” Ms Parker says.
Short-term memory loss may be an early sign of dementia, but that doesn’t mean long-term memories are forgotten. There are great benefits in keeping a person’s memories vibrant by getting to know their culture, hobbies or interests and using these to create an engaging environment for them to live in.
People living with dementia do not lose their desire to be active and involved in the world around them.
A ‘green space’ at home can reduce agitation for people living with dementia.
People living with dementia do not lose their desire to be active and involved in the world around them. There’s so much written about the restorative and healing powers of nature and many of us appreciate the simple, calming joys of sitting in a beautiful garden.
Sensory gardens are increasingly being identified as an important support tool in dementia care. The sight, smell and touch of plants prompts memories, improves quality of life and reduces agitation. Ms Parker says a great sensory garden is one that stimulates as many of the five senses as possible.
“A garden can be very simple, and families should plan based on what they know about their loved one with dementia; which plants they like, which flowers, which herbs are their favourite to smell. They should be able to move around easily and enjoy adding to the garden in meaningful ways, like watering, weeding, planting or even just sitting on a bench in the shade,” Ms Parker suggests.
Colour contrasts can make it far easier for people living with dementia to be independent at home.
Contrast is the key to vision, and research is beginning to show that colour and tonal contrasts to emphasise important features in your home can make the world of difference for a person with dementia.
“One of the key causes for people with dementia going in to residential care is the increasing challenges they face living independently at home, such as vision changes,” Ms Parker explains.
For example, toilets are found more easily if the doors are made obvious, and a contrasting coloured toilet seats helps with positioning. Clear contrasts reduce struggle and help a person with dementia to make sense of the world and function in life with greater confidence.
What to do now
If you or someone close to you could benefit from dementia-friendly home care services, please call the Silver Chain Care Team on (08) 9242 0119. Our staff are highly trained which means you can count on us to provide you with high quality home care and support services.
Our Social Centres in Western Australia offer safe spaces where people with dementia can socialise, join recreation activities and maintain their daily living skills so they can remain at home for as long as possible. They also offer family and carers respite, with the knowledge that their family member is being well cared for.
More information about dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is available from the National Dementia Hotline on 1800 100 500.