What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term that describes the symptoms you may experience when you have any one of a number of progressive neurological disorders.

Symptoms can include memory loss, difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. As a result of changes in the brain, a person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour, and as the dementia progresses it can affect daily life and cognitive abilities.

No two people with dementia have the same experience, there are a few common symptoms but specific symptoms will depend on the part of the brain which was damaged and the type of disease which has caused the dementia, and often their life experiences.

Recognising Symptoms

These are some of the more common early symptoms you may experience.

However it is important to remember that there are a number of other things that can cause these symptoms like depression, vitamin deficiencies, UTIs, infections. Don’t automatically assume you have dementia, the first port of call should be your GP to have a full MOT.

    • Memory. Regularly forgetting recent events, names, and faces.

    • Repetition. Becoming increasingly repetitive, e.g. repeating the same question over and over or repeating behaviours and routines.

    • Misplacing things. Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places.

    • Confusion. Not sure of the date or time of day.

    • Disorientation. People may be unsure of their whereabouts or get lost, particularly in unfamiliar places.

    • Language and speaking. Problems finding the right words.

    • Mood and behaviour. Some people become low in mood, anxious or irritable. Others may lose self-confidence, show less interest in what’s happening around them or just start to do a lot less.

What to do if you are worried

If you are worried about a loved one, or have noticed some changes in yourself which are causing you concern, here are a few steps you can take:

First Step – First of all, don’t panic and assume the worst possible scenario. Though, you are only human if you do fear the worst. These symptoms can also be displayed for many other treatable conditions, such as a water or urinary tract infection, vitamin deficiency, depression, stress, anxiety or something as simple as dehydration. Check your fluid intake. Very few of us drink the required amount of water to stay healthy. Also, remember coffee and tea can act as a diuretic and make you dehydrate quicker.

Visit your GP – Your next port of call should be a visit to your GP or practice nurse for a general check-up. If it is a loved one you are worried about, remember they are probably aware that things have not been right and deep down are as worried as you are, so they may be reluctant to visit the surgery. It’s important that you make it clear that it is to check for the simple things that could be causing the problems. Sometimes, a course of antibiotics, medication or help from a counsellor will solve the issues. Your GP may perform a simple memory test and, depending on this result, may refer you to your local memory clinic. Some GPs will decide to take no further action at this stage and simply ask you to come back in six months or so to see if things have progressed. Or you may be referred to your local memory clinic or the hospital for a scan. Don’t be afraid to go back to see your doctor or the practice nurse if you feel you need more support, or your symptoms are getting worse.

Support – It is important that you look for support as soon as possible. Waiting for the results of an assessment or for an appointment at the clinic can be a worrying time causing added stress and anxiety can make your symptoms worse, which in turn will make you fear the worst. This is the time you could be looking for the support of groups like Butterflies. You should try to keep up your hobbies, go to an art class, an exercise class, keep up your sports, carry on having fun and keep life as normal as possible as long as you are safe to do so. If you withdraw, you are risking developing depression.

Getting a diagnosis

When you receive the results of your assessment at the clinic or from scans, you will now have a better idea of what you are fighting.

Yes – fighting! It can be a very scary time when we receive bad news. We all tend to know just a little about dementia, unfortunately we generally know about the stigma associated with it. There are ways of living positively with dementia, you can still do many of the things you have always done. There may be things you find more challenging, and you may find you need the support of your family and friends.

If it’s a loved one you are enquiring about, don’t forget to look after yourself too. Register as a carer with your GP and make sure your local Carers Service know about you. This means you will receive extra support and be sign posted to the services you may need.

Life after a dementia diagnosis

Following a diagnosis, your GP or consultant should be able to treat you appropriately for the particular condition you have. If you visit the Alzheimer’s Society Website, you will find everything you need to know.

Below is a link to their fact sheets on the most common causes.

Alzheimer’s disease – Click here to see fact sheet
Vascular dementia – Click here to see fact sheet
Lewy bodies – Click here to see fact sheet
Frontotemporal dementia – Click here to see fact sheet

If you are going to be the main carer, you should seek the support of your local carer’s information and support service as soon as possible. Even if you don’t feel you need it initially, the sooner you are registered the better. They will assess your needs as a carer and signpost you to valuable services you are probably not aware exist.

As a family member supporting someone with dementia you are keeping down the cost of dementia care to your local health authority. Your input is as valuable to them as it is to your loved one.

Dementia is not something you should be ashamed of, but unfortunately, it does often carry negative stigma. Please don’t be afraid to talk to your friends and family about your diagnosis, you can live normally you just may need some support as the disease progresses.

There are also a number of self help groups on Facebook, which you may find are a great support.