Family guide to dementia
Dementia is not a single disease but a term applied to a collection of symptoms and forms of behaviour associated with memory loss, reduced spans of attention and more complex cognitive disorders. These might extend to things like a deterioration in a person's ability to deal with everyday problems or to communicate effectively with others.
Affecting around 800,000 people in the UK alone, dementia is most common in more elderly people, typically of 65 years and above, but it can affect people of any age. In most cases, it is incurable and tends to be progressive, although static forms of dementia do exist and are usually the result of an isolated event that has resulted in some form of brain injury. A minority of symptoms might also be partly or fully reversible.
Families and friends will normally be the first to notice the early signs of dementia in someone close to them, and these signs might include increasing forgetfulness, anxiousness and other changes in mood, personality or behaviour. To make a definitive diagnosis, medical professionals will usually perform a brain scan because many of these same symptoms are shared by other unrelated conditions and may therefore be misleading.
There are various different forms of dementia, of which Alzheimer's Disease is by far the most prevalent. In almost all cases, however, common symptoms of the later stages include depression, agitation and confusion, coupled with a tendency towards self-neglect.
There is no doubt that dementia can be a very distressing condition, both for the individual sufferer and for the family and friends around them. However, there are treatments that can slow and lessen its debilitative effects, there are well established support groups for family members and there are many very effective care aids that can make life substantially easier for everyone concerned.
Making life easier
Because dementia can cover such wide array of different symptoms, it is very important to get a swift, clear and proper diagnosis because this will determine the kind of treatments, support and information that will be of most value.
An early diagnosis is also important because, in many cases, the earlier the condition is detected, the more can be done to slow or prevent the development of certain symptoms. It also ensures that whoever is suffering from the condition has more time to make informed decisions about his or her care and about other important arrangements concerning family and finances.
Finally, of course, a proper diagnosis might also find that the condition isn't dementia at all, but rather any one of a large number of treatable illnesses or simple complaints that can sometimes give rise to similar symptoms.
For those that are diagnosed with dementia, there are medicines that can help with many of the symptoms. There are also support groups, both national and local, that can help sufferers and their families by sharing ideas, information and contacts, or just by lessening the feelings of depression and isolation that those affected can often feel.
Anyone living with dementia faces a number of significant challenges. A close support network of family and friends can help with some of these, particularly through communication, which can help to reduce the effects of anxiety and confusion. As the people who know them best, family members will also tend to be more alert to slight changes in behaviour - changes that might indicate other concerns such as discomfort, worry or feeling poorly.
Different people respond in different ways to the onset of dementia. For some, the main challenges will relate to daily household tasks such as eating and drinking, whilst for others, the concerns might relate more to personal safety or fighting the loss of memory. Fortunately, as the following section demonstrates, families can now choose from a wide range of very effective aids that can help with these and many other aspects of the condition.
Dementia can affect almost every aspect of a person's life and can make routine tasks extremely challenging. It also often coincides with the development of other disorders such as arthritis and reduced mobility. For that reason, people with dementia could potentially benefit from an enormous range of different care products from mobility aids to devices that assist with dressing and comfort. However, listed below are examples of some of the most commonly affected aspects of everyday living - and the kinds of products that can help.
Eating & drinking aids
Dementia can limit a person's ability to eat and drink independently but designers have produced a range of products that enable people to retain greater control. Examples include stable, colourful, shatterproof crockery such as the Wade Dignity range, together with non-spill feeding cups, clothing protectors and many other aids.
People with more developed dementia may suffer from incontinence but there are many products that can help individuals and families to address the problem. Examples include bed pads, washable bed protectors, discreet stretch pants and a range of related hygiene accessories.
A failing memory can be extremely frustrating but designers have addressed the problem with a broad collection of household aids and reminders. Examples include photo-touch telephones that don't require the use of a numeric keypad and general aids such as wireless object locators, safety plugs that prevent baths and basins from overflowing, clocks that indicate whether it is day or night, and memory aid pendants that issue verbal reminders at specific times of the day.
Memory development aids
The loss of memory function can be resisted to a considerable extent by keeping the mind active and engaged with other people. For this reason, therapists and other medical professionals have developed a range of stimulating games and activities that help to keep people happier, more alert and more independent. Examples include reminiscence aids, group activity games and a variety of arts and crafts products. For those with memory loss, automatic pill dispensers and tablet organisers can also help to ensure that important medication is taken at the right times.
Wander control systems
One of the most dangerous aspects of dementia is the possibility of wandering and leaving a safe environment without family members being aware of it. To safeguard against this, manufacturers have developed a range of wander control systems including motion sensor reminder devices, CCTV systems, bed sensors, speaking pagers and radio controlled door and window alarms.
Since family members are usually the people most directly affected when a relative suffers from dementia, publishers have produced an array of specialist reference books that explain how to help improve the quality of life for the sufferer and the carer alike.
Support and information
Families supporting a relative who is suffering from dementia, confusion or severe memory problems might find the following organisations and websites useful as sources of advice and information.
Dementia and VAT exemption:
When someone is buying a product for a person (including themselves) who has a disability, a severe physical impairment or a chronic illness, they are not required to pay VAT on it provided that the item in question is purposely designed as act as an aid to disability or injury. More details can be found on our website.