Everyone forgets things from time to time – we might not remember where we last put our keys or walk into the kitchen and completely forget why.
But if you notice mum or dad starting to forget things more commonly and you think it's affecting their everyday life, then that might be a sign of dementia.
One of the challenges facing people at the early stages of dementia is that their own insights into their capabilities can be impaired. People will often be aware of changes in memory, but may just put it down to getting older. With elderly couples; when one partner starts to show signs of dementia and begins to forget things, their other half might – often subconsciously – start to help them and do tasks that they struggle with for them. For example, your father might be forgetting to put a tea bag in the pot when making a cuppa, but your mother might prompt him without even thinking about it. Other noticeable early stage symptoms can include forgetting what you just had for breakfast, repetitively asking the same question or repeatedly talking about the same topic.
What to do first
If you're concerned that mum or dad or a loved one is showing signs of dementia, then it is important to encourage them to go and see their GP. If they're reluctant, try addressing their concerns or suggest they visit with somebody as a chaperone if that would make them more comfortable. It may also help to write to the GP beforehand, outlining the symptoms and difficulties your loved one is experiencing so that they don't need to feel embarrassed during the doctor's appointment.
Visiting your GP to talk about your concerns is an important first step because memory problems can also be the result of other conditions such as infections, depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, an underactive thyroid or on rare occasions a brain tumour. These should be investigated first so they can be ruled out.
Following a dementia diagnosis, your loved one may experience a range of emotions. They may feel sad, lost, angry or alone. They may be in disbelief or they may be relieved – and their reaction to the diagnosis may change from day to day. These feelings may be triggered by the fear of an inevitable decline in cognitive function. However, many people are able to live independently with the condition for many years by putting things in place that can help their independence and wellbeing. Acknowledging and accepting the condition and exploring the steps that can help support independence as early as possible will help to ensure the best quality of life for as long as possible. We've highlighted seven ways to live well with dementia below.
Seven ways to live well with Dementia
Each person is affected by dementia uniquely. However it may affect you, there are lots of ways that can help you live well with the condition so that you can continue to enjoy a really good life. We've listed some initial ideas below, but we are very happy to discuss your particular symptoms and circumstances or those of your loved one to consider other solutions to support living independently with dementia:
1. Making adjustments to help with memory loss: Small changes can often help, such as writing reminder notes, having a calendar or diary with appointments and regular tasks (such as putting the rubbish out), putting labels or picture on cupboards and drawers and asking your medication to be delivered in a disposable dosette box with each day's dose of tablet in a marked section. The Dementia Services Development Centre of Stirling University has books and articles on their website with plenty of practical tips.
With Alzheimer's disease, people forget things in their recent past whilst vividly remembering things from decades ago. We have seen dementia clients putting microwave meals in for 30 minutes or putting electric kettles on the stove. It makes sense. Forty years ago, it did take 30 minutes to heat a meal in a conventional oven and kettles did go on the stove. A simple solution to this is to just get rid of the microwave and buy them a whistle kettle.
2. Stimulating the mind: Although people may struggle to find the right words or organise tasks, many people with dementia retain the ability to do things they have enjoyed for the most part of their lives. To some people's surprise, we support clients in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, and Sevenoaks in the middle stage of dementia who still play a mean hand at bridge, complete the Times crossword and hold their own at games of Scrabble. Encouraging people to continue playing games and take part in pastimes they have enjoyed for much of their lives can be hugely beneficial to maintaining a positive mood and self-esteem.
3. Stay socially active: Keeping up with family and friends and remaining involved with clubs or societies can have a very positive impact. Joining new groups, such as lunch clubs or other social groups, can also give the opportunity to meet others who are dealing with the same challenges of living with dementia. Participating in art classes or singing groups can be excellent ways to help keep socially and intellectually stimulated. We're fortunate that there are lots of groups and events in the Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Southborough area:
Age UK have a list of the lunch and social clubs running in the West Kent area.
All About Home Care run Find Your Voice, which is a singing group that meets weekly to support those living with conditions such as Parkinson's, MS, dementia as well as anyone who enjoys a good sing. Everyone has the opportunity to improve their posture, breathing, singing and learn new songs in a fun and welcoming environment. The group meets each Friday at the Church Hall of All Saints in Langton Green between 2.00pm and 4.00pm. Call Kieron from All About Home Care for more details, 01732 447055.
The Alzheimer's Society runs dementia cafes, as do our local Dementia Friendly Community Groups in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.
The Sevenoaks Area Dementia Area Community is collaboration of businesses, charities and volunteers across Sevenoaks who work to make Sevenoaks friendly for those living with dementia and their families. They organise five Forget–me–not cafes in Chipstead, Edenbridge, Hildenborough, Sevenoaks and Westerham and a Forget-me-notes singing group in Sevenoaks. Call Kieron from All About Home Care for more details, 01732 447055.
4. Keep moving: Finding ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine is good for both the body and mind. Going for walks, joining a walking group, playing with grandchildren or dog walking with a friend will help with overall physical fitness.Specific exercise classes or fall prevention classes can also help maintain stability.
5. Keeping warm: It's more common for elderly people to feel the cold, but for people with dementia on medication such as donepezil they can feel the cold even more. That means it's doubly important for mum or dad to keep warm.
Wrap up warm, wear bed socks and plenty of layers to trap the heat. Keep the kettle going and make sure your loved one enjoys at least one hot meal each day. Draught excluders can be a good way to eliminate cold air, but they are also a potential trip hazard – you could get excluder brushes and strips installed on the outside of the door instead of using conventional sausage-shaped draught excluders.
6. Eating well: Making sure we eat well is an important part of looking after ourselves or a loved one with dementia. One of the risks with dementia is that one can fill up on snacks – eating too many biscuits or crisps – and then not be hungry at dinner time. You also need to be careful to drink plenty of fluids. Having a menu plan for the week and buying a variety of healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts can help you maintain a nutritious and balanced diet.
7. Maintaining the natural body clock: Many people with dementia experience abnormal sleep patterns leading to 'sundowning', an aggravation of dementia symptoms towards the late afternoon and early evening. Maintaining the internal body clock by ensuring your loved one gets the right amount of sleep at the natural times our bodies are tuned to is important to help prevent this. When you're at home, let the sunlight flood in, keeping windows clean and clear; natural light can make more of a difference than medication in some cases of dementia.
With the right support, it is possible to live well with dementia. We have found that by supporting people early in their diagnosis, our carers have become familiar with their wishes and needs so, as the dementia develops, they are able to support you and your loved one to remain independent at home.
To find out more or to discuss your care needs or those of someone you love
in the Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks areas
call 01732 447 055 or 01892 575 499