What is dementia?
The word dementia describes symptoms which might include memory loss, difficulty thinking, and problem solving or being able to communicate.
What causes it?
Dementia is a disease of the brain such as Alzheimer’s or Vascular Dementia which is a series of bleeds in the brain or a stroke.
This is the most common cause of dementia affecting 520,000 people in the UK. Chemicals change the structures of the brain leading to loss of connections between nerve cells which over time lead to the death of brain tissue.
Symptoms are mild to start with but get progressively worse. No two people will experience the condition in the same way but the most common symptoms are;
Memory lapses, problems recalling recent events
Learning new information. Dementia affects the Hippocampus which controls our day-to-day memory
Stored memories aren’t usually affected in the early stages, they will remember things clearly from years back
Losing items- keys, phone – I think we all do this so don’t panic!!!
This is the second most common form of dementia. This can come on suddenly due to a stroke or over time due to a series of small strokes. If there is a reduced blood supply to the brain the brain cells may die. Common symptoms are as follows;
How can you help?
Caring for people who have dementia can be very difficult. Grieving for the person they once were or remaining patient and understanding can be heart-breaking. A relative of mine had dementia and it was very hard to witness what was happening. But, through the blackest moments there can be humour and you shouldn’t feel guilty if it makes you chuckle. For example, my Nan was in a nursing home when her dementia got too dangerous for her to be at home. She would go to the day room and pick up her hand bag as she went back to her living area. We soon realised that she was collecting everyone else’s handbags as well as her own when we discovered a whole collection in her room! Not only that but she was wearing someone else’s teeth…. Black humour helps in some situations!
When someone has dementia they can feel vulnerable and need a lot of support and reassurance. People close to them need to help them to retain their identity and self- worth,
Respect them for the person they are now as well as the person they once were.
Don’t talk about them as if they’re not there, include them in the conversation
Put yourself in their position, how would you like to be treated?
Ask questions that need a yes or no answer, too many choices can be confusing
Try to do activities with them that they enjoy
Look for a meaning behind their words, even if they don’t make sense they may be trying to communicate. Dementia Friends have a great story of a lady who couldn’t speak or communicate. She was in a nursing home and continuously tapped her fingers on the table for hours and hours. This was extremely irritating for everyone around her and drove everyone mad. It wasn’t until a relative came over form Australia and told staff that she was involved with cracking the Enigma Code during the war they that they realised she was tapping out a conversation! They then got the local Scouts to come in and chat back to her using her code. She had been totally isolated for years.
Try to be tolerant, it can be extremely frustrating for you but being impatient doesn’t help anyone
Make time to listen and chat with them.
How can exercise help
Exercise throughout life plays a significant role in reducing the risk of developing dementia by 50%
A person with Dementia gains the same health benefits from regular physical activity as anyone else
Regular physical activity can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems.
Always seek a GP’s clearance before beginning any new exercise
What exercise is recommended?
What exercise did they used to enjoy?
Walk, best all -round exercise and it’s free!
Combine walking with going to the shops or walking a dog
Helps to work off the restless urge – some dementia patients tend to wander off
Cycling- tandem or static bike
Exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise!
Anything that gets the heart rate up!
30 minutes aerobic exercise, 5 times a week
Resistance training to improve muscle strength and also the health of the brain, 2 – 3 times a week
Balance and coordination (Yoga, Tai Chi/Chi Kung/ Falls Prevention)
Don’t give up-it takes a month to establish physical activity as a new way of life
Exercise in the later stages of Dementia
Physical activity can help to reduce the need for supported care,
Encourage movement – walk to a different room frequently and sit in a different chair
Have timed sessions of sitting away from the back support of the chair to improve core strength (with supervision)
What exercise should be avoided?
If there is pain during or after exercise
If the patient is very tired or unwell
If there are co-morbidities (other illnesses) that need to be taken into consideration
Any activity which could cause them to feel distressed. (Maybe a new activity that their not confident in doing)Remember, everyone is different and dementia will affect people in different ways. If you need help and support visit the Dementia Friends website.