Spending time with loved ones at family gatherings can be a good time to spot signs of dementia
When you catch up with friends and relatives you haven't seen in a while you might compliment them if they’ve lost weight or have a new hairstyle, but what would you do if you spotted a significant change in their behaviour and wellbeing since you last saw them? What if they’re struggling to follow a conversation or TV programme, or even forgetting who you are? Should you just put it down to them getting older, or could it be a sign they’re unwell?
The Government launched a multimillion pound national campaign to increase early dementia diagnosis, to help families spot the early signs and avoid a ‘crisis point’. There isn’t a cure for dementia but if diagnosed early, it can be treated and those affected can lead a better quality of life, taking part in normal day-to-day activities and enjoying prolonged independence.
So what are some of the early symptoms to look out for in a loved one?
- Struggling to remember recent events, although they can easily recall things that happened in the past
- Finding it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV
- Forgetting the names of friends or everyday objects
- Difficulty recalling things they have heard, seen or read
- Repeating themselves or losing the thread of what they are saying
- Having problems thinking and reasoning
- Feeling anxious, depressed or angry about their memory loss
- Finding that other people start to comment on their memory loss
- Feeling confused even when in a familiar environment
If you notice these symptoms you should encourage your relative or friend to visit their GP as early as possible. It can be difficult to raise the issue of dementia with a loved one, but it really is worth doing because early diagnosis means patients can receive appropriate treatment earlier and can get care and support to ensure they are able to live well.
Professor Alistair Burns, the National Clinical Director for Dementia says: “Choose a time when you are both relaxed and open to a frank conversation. Make sure you have the chat in a comfortable place where you can talk openly and where there are no other distractions. You could use specific examples of things you are concerned about to help your loved one understand your worries and explain you are bringing the topic up because you think there could be a medical explanation and it could be something that can be treated and managed. “Remember to keep calm and if the person isn’t receptive to what you’re saying suggest you talk about it again the next time you see them or speak to them.”
Preparing for a guest with dementia
Twenty five million people in the UK know a family member, close friend or someone else with dementia. A change of routine or scenery can be unsettling to someone living with the condition, but there are ways you can help visitors feel welcomed and more settled when they are staying with you.
The Alzheimer’s Society has produced a factsheet with simple practical tips to prepare for a guest with dementia, from managing food and mealtimes to safety and security and what to do in an emergency.
The charity suggests labelling room doors, kitchen cupboards and drawers to help the person find their way around, and using pictures as well as words on the labels. If your guest forgets people's names easily it may also be helpful for people in the house to wear name badges.