How to deal with elderly dementia

What is dementia?

The word ‘dementia’ is used to describe a number of different conditions that affect the brain. Each of these leads to a decline in mental ability, such as memory loss, confusion, and problems with speech, concentration, thinking and perception

Who is likely to develop dementia?

Most people who develop dementia are over 65, although it does affect some younger

One in 20 people over 65 has dementia, and one in five over the age of 85

What forms of dementia are there?

The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Although they have similar symptoms, they develop in different ways.

Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for about 60 per cent of dementia, is linked to changes in the structure of the brain, which causes brain cells to die. It usually starts gradually and progresses at a slow, steady pace

Vascular dementia happens when a series of small strokes cut off the blood supply to parts of the brain. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, it often develops in sudden steps as these strokes happen

Other less common types of dementia include:

  •  Lewy body disease (similar to Alzheimers, although people with Lewy body disease are more likely to experience hallucinations
  • Pick’s disease (also known as frontal lobe dementia, referring to the part of the brain affected)
  • Huntingdon’s disease or Chorea (a rare form of dementia that usually develops at a younger age)
  • Creutzfeld Jakob disease (the human form of ‘mad cow disease’, which is also very rare and thought to be linked to eating infected beef
  • Dementia can also happen as a result of Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, a brain tumour, head injuries or alcohol misuse

How might having dementia affect your ageing parent?

They may become forgetful, repeat tasks they have already completed, or do, say and see things in a way that other people might find odd

They may find it harder to keep up with conversations, make decisions, and express their feelings

They might have trouble remembering people’s names, dates or everyday words, or become less physically co-ordinated

Over time, dementia can reduce your parent’s ability to carry out everyday tasks, such as washing, going to the toilet, getting dressed, cooking or cleaning

How quickly will the dementia progress?

It varies from person to person

In many cases, the progression is slow, giving your elderly relative and you time to adjust to changes in  abilities, although symptoms will probably vary from day to day

In the early stages of dementia, many people continue to live fairly independent lives

Problems are likely to become more severe as the illness progresses and, later on, people can become severely affected, both physically and mentally.People with later stage dementia often experience severe memory loss, are sometimes unable to recognise familiar people, places or objects, and may have problems with basic things like walking, talking or eating. By this stage, they may become completely dependent on others to care for them

How to get help

You can ask your parent’s GP to monitor their health on a regular basis and your local social services department may be able to provide help around the home – such as with laundry, meals and safety aids – and a place to go during the day, such as a day centre

Your local authority and GP can also arrange for your parent to be assessed my memory services, who will put together a care plan, which will be reviewed regularly

It might also find it helpful to encourage your parent to join a support group for people with dementia

Strategies to cope with dementia

Following a daily routine can stimulate memory and reduce the feeling of panic

If there are regular things your parent needs to remember, like locking doors or taking medicine, write them on a notice board and pin them up somewhere prominent.

Reassure them that it’s  fine to ask someone to repeat themselves if you haven’t understood, or have forgotten something they said.

Encourage your elderly relative to carry a notebook with lists of people’s names, telephone numbers and daily tasks written inside to refer to as needed

Encourage them to put important items, like keys, spectacles or their notebook, in the same place, so they get in the habit of knowing where to look for them

Maintaining a social life can help prevent your parent from becoming isolated

Write telephone numbers of important people, e.g. friends, family, GP, and care staff on a pad near the phone

Ask their bank to set up direct debits to pay all your important bills, so that they don’t need to worry about them.

Help your parent to remain positive and to focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t

Planning Ahead

If your ageing parent has dementia, you may want to ask them to plan ahead in terms of considering care arrangements, power of attorney and making a will

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