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Dementia Action Week 2021

It is estimated that around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, a figure predicted to rise to 1.6 million by 2040 (Alzheimer’s Society, November 2019). It’s likely most of us will encounter the condition, either within our close family or wider social circle, so it’s important to be informed.

This article is our contribution to Dementia Action Week, which this year falls on 17–23 May. For more information visit www.alzheimers.org.uk.

Facts

The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.

Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s or a series of strokes. The specific symptoms experienced by an individual depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia.

The signs of dementia often start small but may become severe enough over time to affect daily life, including changes in mood or behaviour.

Myths

✘ Dementia is a natural part of ageing 

Although getting older is one of the main risk factors for dementia, not everyone will experience it in later life, and it doesn’t just affect older people. Over 40,000 people under 65 in the UK have early-onset dementia.

✘ Dementia is another name for Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia symptoms, but there are others such as vascular dementia, mixed dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.

✘ Dementia is just about memory loss

Memory problems are one set of symptoms that people with dementia may experience. Others include difficulties with planning, thinking things through, struggling to keep up with a conversation, and sometimes changes in mood or behaviour.

✘ A diagnosis of dementia spells the end

Having dementia does not prevent a person from living a fulfilling life for many years. Symptoms may remain stable for sustained periods. An individual’s experience of dementia is affected by factors such as their response to their diagnosis, their surroundings, their physical activity, their diet, their relationships with friends and family, and the treatment and support they receive.

Support

Support from health and social care services is of course important to a person with dementia, but it’s not the whole picture. Those affected can live well with the condition if people, organisations and communities come together to help.

Dementia Friends

These are individuals willing to learn the basics about dementia and to contribute towards creating a climate of kindness and understanding. Almost three million people in the UK are registered as Dementia Friends. The short information session is delivered either online or in person by a local Dementia Friends Champion. For more information visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk.

Music therapy

Research has shown the remarkable effect music can have on people with dementia, including those who find it difficult to communicate in other ways. It can also alleviate depression and provide respite for carers, and the beneficial effects are increased through a shared musical experience.

Before the pandemic Singing for the Brain ran many groups across the country, including sessions in Charvil. All have been amalgamated into several virtual sessions available online on Mondays. Visit www.alzheimers.org.uk for information.

Sing Your Pain Away offers weekly classes (currently online) promoting singing, laughter, friendship and fun for improved health and wellbeing. Visit www.singyourpainaway.co.uk.

Explaining dementia to children

When someone is diagnosed with dementia, it is important for all the family to learn about the condition and maintain their own relationship with the individual. The bookl

et Understanding Dementia and Lessening its Impact is simple enough to be helpful for older children as well as invaluable for any adults close to the person (£4.99 including P&P from lucy.w@understandingdementia.co.uk). A new picture book aimed at helping young children to understand is My Grandma Has Dementia by Alex Winstanley (£7.99 from Amazon).

Worried? First steps

If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of dementia, in the first instance speak to your GP. One of the best resources online is the Alzheimer’s Society website for advice about living with dementia, a wide range of information and details of support services such as befriending and activity groups. Visit www.alzheimers.org.uk.

Local expertise

Here are just a few organisations offering dementia services in our area.

Understanding Dementia

Twyford based charity founded by Shirley Pearce with the aim of promoting a clear understanding of dementia, how it affects the person and how to lessen its impact. Since last autumn the charity has been offering a free course to family carers, delivered through eight interactive sessions online. Email lucy.w@understandingdementia.co.uk.

Home Instead, Maidenhead, Henley and Wallingford

Home care agency run from offices in Ruscombe by Paul and Melissa Johnson. Their dedicated team benefit from Home Instead’s unique City & Guilds accredited dementia training programme, ensuring care givers are well qualified to support those living with dementia in their own homes. Email melissa.johnson@homeinstead.co.uk.

Right at Home, Reading & Wokingham District

Home care agency based in Twyford, owned by Kevin Lancaster, and rated Outstanding for Caring by the CQC. The friendly, trusted team includes Certified Right at Home Dementia Support Specialists, provides in-depth training in dementia for all care givers, and prides itself in highly personalised dementia care that connects families. Email twyford@rightathome.co.uk.

TimeFinders Senior Life Specialists

Organisation offering practical and emotional support to older people and their families in changing circumstances, such as following a diagnosis of dementia. Services include planning for later life, choosing and managing care, help with downsizing, and professional advocacy in the absence of a family representative. For local support email helen.ferguson@timefindersuk.com.

Dementia Friends information and awareness sessions

Home Instead, Right at Home and TimeFinders all have Dementia Friends Champions available to deliver the hour-long Dementia Friends session to individuals, groups and businesses in the local community.

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