As part of our Wellness Wednesdays campaign, we share a blog every Wednesday from Healthily – our preferred health partner – to give you tips, advice and guidance on a wide variety of health conditions. This month, The Joy Club team leant our support to the charity, Dementia Carers Count and their campaign, ‘Every Small Step’, which raised money and awareness for people who are caring for those with dementia (click here to find out more about Dementia Carers Count and the work they do).
This week, we wanted to share an article to open up conversations about what dementia is, understanding its symptoms and thinking about what activities are beneficial for those who have the condition.
If you or someone you know is becoming increasingly forgetful, particularly if you or they are over the age of 65, it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor about the early signs of dementia.
As we get older, many people find that memory loss becomes a problem. This can be annoying if it happens occasionally, but if it’s affecting your daily life or is worrying you or someone you know, you should seek help from your doctor.
But dementia isn’t just about memory loss. It can also affect the way we speak, think, feel and behave. While it’s normal for your memory to be affected by stress, tiredness, or certain illnesses and medications, it’s important to remember that dementia is not a natural part of ageing.
Why is it important to get a diagnosis?
Although there is no cure for dementia at present, if it’s diagnosed in the early stages, there are ways we can slow it down and maintain mental function.
A diagnosis can help people with dementia get the right treatment and support, and help those close to them to prepare and plan for the future. With treatment and support, many people are able to lead active, fulfilled lives.
The symptoms of dementia tend to worsen with time and in the much later stages of dementia, people will be able to do far less for themselves and may lose much of their ability to communicate. This often means that there is greater responsibility on the shoulders of partners, children and friends to take on a caring role for that person.
How common is dementia?
According to the Alzheimer’s Society there are around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia. One in 14 people over 65 will develop dementia, and the condition affects 1 in 6 people over 80.
The number of people with dementia is increasing because people are living longer. It is estimated that by 2025, the number of people with dementia in the UK will have increased to around 1 million.
Symptoms of dementia
Dementia is not a disease itself but rather a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain caused by different diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. These symptoms vary according to the part of the brain that is damaged.
Common early symptoms of dementia
Different types of dementia can affect people differently, and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way.
However, there are some common early symptoms that may appear some time before a diagnosis of dementia. These include:
- memory loss
- difficulty concentrating
- finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
- struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
- being confused about time and place
- mood changes
These symptoms are often mild and may get worse only very gradually. It’s often termed “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) as the symptoms are not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia.
You might not notice these symptoms if you have them, and family and friends may not notice or take them seriously for some time. In some people, these symptoms will remain the same and not worsen. But some people with MCI will go on to develop dementia.
Dementia is not a natural part of ageing. This is why it’s important to talk to your GP sooner rather than later if you’re at all worried about memory problems or other symptoms.
There is at present no cure for dementia. But there are medicines and other treatments that can help with dementia symptoms. You can find out more about both medicinal and non-medicinal treatments here.
Activities for dementia
Having dementia doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the things you or you or your friend/partner enjoy . There are all sorts of activities you can do – physical, mental, social and creative – that help people to live well with dementia and improve their wellbeing.
If you care for someone who has dementia, a shared activity can make both of you happier and able to enjoy quality time together. You can continue with the activities you already enjoy, though they may take longer than they used to. Or try new activities, such as the suggestions on this page.
Stay socially active
Keeping in touch with people is good for your confidence and mental wellbeing. As well as meeting up with friends and family, try these activities:
- dance, tai chi, yoga, swimming or joining a walking group will help keep you active as well as sociable – look out for local dementia-friendly swimming, gym and walking sessions
- arts-based activities – drawing/painting classes, drama groups and book clubs can all help you stay involved
- reminiscence work – share your life experiences and stories from the past with photos, objects, video and music clips, either as a book or on a tablet or other digital device
- find a local memory or dementia café – meet other people with dementia and their carers in an informal drop-in setting to share advice, tips and support.
Tablets and smartphones
These digital devices can be very useful for people with dementia. From online games, puzzles and dedicated dementia apps, to Skype and YouTube, they provide a way to stay engaged with others and enjoy a range of activities.
Out and about
Many communities are working to become dementia friendly. This means that organisations and venues may have specialist events and activities for people with dementia, such as:
- dementia-friendly cinema screenings and streaming of live theatre productions
- sensory gardens – a garden or plot designed to provide different sensory experiences, including scented plants, sculptures, textured touch pads and water features
- woodland walks.
Speak to your doctor for advice on local organisations that can support both you and the person caring for you.
Activities for the later stages of dementia
It’s often assumed that people in the later stages of dementia are unable to engage in activities, but this isn’t true.
Activities will often need to be simplified and are more likely to focus on the senses:
Playing music, objects to touch and interact with, and hand massage can all help people with dementia in the later stages.
You can read the full article in the Healthily Health Library where it was originally published.
Read more from Healthily on their website, follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and download their app. This blog post is a follow up to our first article from Healthily on Dementia, outlining how to reduce your risk of dementia, which you can find here.
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