Signs of dementia – what to look out for and how to get help
To mark Dementia Action Week 21-27 May 2018, David Barenskie, Head of Dementia Care at Green Tree Court, outlines the key signs of dementia to look out for.
Spotting dementia early on means getting the right help sooner. And that can make living with dementia significantly easier. For example, simple things like visual markers to indicate which cupboard contains the sugar can make a simple task like making a cup of tea a whole lot easier. Green Tree Court was recently awarded a Gold Award for dementia-friendly design, from the University of Stirling Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC). To achieve this, we had to show how we’ve adapted the design and interiors of our home to compensate make every day living as easy as possible for anyone living with dementia.
What is dementia?
David Barenskie, Head of Dementia Care at Green Tree Court explains:
“Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe the physical disease processes that affect the brain, which in turn impacts on a persons ability to carry out everyday tasks that we all take for granted. There are many different types of dementia but the two most common are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
“The progression of Alzheimer’s disease can be compared to walking down a hill slowly. Damage to the brain cells and resulting difficulties with carrying out activities of daily living develop slowly. Vascular dementia has a different progression. This is often described as ‘step-like’ as a person’s abilities are affected due to periods of rapid brain cell deterioration caused by the restriction of blood flow to the brain. This can display itself in a person’s inability to carry out a task that they were previously able to do.
“Dependent on what parts of the brain are affected determines what aspects of their everyday lives are affected. Dementia in this respect is a unique disease process: If you have met one person living with dementia you have only met one person living with dementia.”
Common early signs of dementia
Different types of dementia affect people in different ways. Here are some of the common signs you may notice before a diagnosis of dementia:
- Memory loss or forgetting things
- Difficulty concentrating
- Confusion that can make ordinary daily tasks more difficult
- Finding it hard to follow a conversation or find the right word
- Confusion over the time or place
- Changes to your mood
Don’t just dismiss these signs as a normal part of ageing. The sooner steps are taken to acknowledge dementia the more someone living with dementia will be able to live life to the full.
Symptoms in later stages of dementia
As dementia progresses, these are the most common symptoms which may be experienced:
- Memory problems, including not recognising close family members
- Some people with dementia may lose the ability to speak altogether
- Increased agitation and anxiety. This can also lead to depression or aggression
- Restricted mobility. Some people with dementia may become unable to walk
- Reduced appetite leading to weight loss. This can also be exacerbated by problems with eating or swallowing
What to do if you’re worried that someone has dementia
If you are worried that you or someone you know may have dementia, speak to your GP. There are a series of tests and assessments that can be carried out to rule-out other illnesses and determine if someone has dementia.
If dementia is diagnosed, you may feel shocked at. But a diagnosis gives you the opportunity to take control of the situation. It allows you to make plans to make the future more comfortable for anyone with dementia.
Planning for the future
Unfortunately there is no cure for dementia. But there steps that can be taken to help make living with dementia easier.
The Alzheimer’s Society has a booklet with advice on making your own home easier for someone with dementia to live in or visit. The aim is to make it as simple as possible to navigate around and to help trigger memories. That could include things like:
- Making sure lighting is bright to reduce confusing shadows on the floor
- Removing trip hazards like rugs and mats
- Using contrasting colours for things like the toilet seat, to make it easier for someone with dementia to find
- Using visual aids to help guide someone with dementia to find what they’re looking for. For example, put pictures or labels on the outside of cupboards to identify contents
David Barenski explains why making a space dementia-friendly is important:
“Making a space more dementia friendly can help to encourage independence, which is vital for self-esteem. It also makes it easier for someone living with dementia to stay active, which can also help to improve overall wellbeing. By making it easier for our residents to get around, and reducing frustration, we can also reduce stress and anxiety. As a result, medication can often be reduced or even cut out altogether. And that means that our residents can reduce or even eliminate some of the common side effects of these drugs, such as drowsiness and unsteadiness.”
Dementia can progress at different rates, so there is no knowing how long someone living with the illness can continue to live independently. There may come a time when someone living with dementia needs specialist care.
At Green Tree Court we are proud to have been awarded an “outstanding rating” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). One of the factors that contributed to this elite award is our personalised approach to dementia care. We have been awarded the Stirling Gold Standard for our dementia-friendly design of spaces. We have a specialist Head of Dementia Care and always treat each of our residents as an individual. We also follow changing good practice to ensure the quality of our care and facilities are always the best they can be.
To find out more, or to arrange to visit, please call us on 01392 240400.