Date: 03 Jun 2015

In the UK there are over 750,000 people living with dementia. By 2021, the number is expected to rise to over 940,000 people and continue to increase to 1.7 million by 2050. As the number increases, it is becoming more important to consider the effects of dementia and also how we can play our part in supporting our loved ones.
In the first part in our Dementia webinar series, in partnership with our friends at Home Instead, we will be starting from the beginning and looking at how to spot the signs.

Spotting the Signs

Spotting the signs of dementia early is important to allow you to find the right help and treatments for your loved one and plan for the future.
The signs of dementia are often very small that individually do not seem significant. When looking at the bigger picture however, they can add up to something worrying. Both family members and the sufferer may try to rationalise the signs and situation and make a joke, dismiss the error or say things to cover up that they cannot remember something. Trying to deny that something is wrong is very common with dementia, especially when accepting a situation that is so frightening.

What can you do?

It’s extremely important to notice that things have changed and there are a few tips below to help you spot the initial signs:

Don’t interpret, listen closely. Although it is tempting to say “oh he means…” and give your own meaning, it is important to acknowledge when things actually don’t make sense.
Don’t jump in and take over. We all tend to be a little impatient when someone is struggling to finish a sentence. We need to be careful that we are doing this just because the other person is slow rather than giving meaning to something when actually the meaning is not there.
Don’t rationalise, if it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense. It’s remarkably easy to rationalise away, or talk ourselves into giving meaning to something that actually doesn’t have one, especially if we are not listening closely.

Be objective, listen and observe. As a human, we all have days when we forget things, especially when we’re tired or not concentrating but this does not mean we have dementia. Look for patterns and over time they will appear. Initially the patterns will be small but there is a significant difference between the occasional lapse and consistently experiencing challenges with words and actions.
Be prepared to become your parent’s parent. Taking the lead is difficult, possibly for the first time in your life you may have to behave as your parent’s parent. This may be difficult for both you and your parent and it’s important to remember this cannot be done quickly. It has to be done at their pace – there is a lot to come to terms with.
Be ready to start the conversation. Make sure you are ready to start the conversation. It may take a while, with several false starts, before you get there.

Where can you go for help and support?

There are a variety of different resources and support available to you, including:
Your GP. You can go directly to your loved one’s GP and raise your concerns. Your GP may be able to provide a diagnosis through a formal assessment or potentially refer you to a dementia specialist/consultant.
Health professionals already involved – District Nursery, Diabetic Nurse, etc. Other health professionals who are familiar with your loved one may be able to help also. They may have seen, though not recognised, the same signs that you have and could possibly provide confirmation.
Charities – Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia UK. Charities can be a great resource for advice and information, especially for carers.
Home Care companies, including Home Instead. Home Care, or domiciliary care, can be a source of expert care with or without diagnosis. The help from a Home Care provider is not necessarily medical but it can support and enhance the quality of someone’s life. Simply knowing you can go out without worrying or do the shopping for a few hours is a huge benefit.

Coping Mechanisms

The early stages of dementia are a very emotive and difficult time for everyone, especially for your loved one with the condition. It will naturally take time to adjust to the idea and it is completely normal to expect the responses below:
Expect resistance – Be patient.
Expect “I’m OK” and/or “I don’t want/need help!”
Expect “Why? Do you think I can’t look after myself?”
Accepting the reality of the situation is difficult for everyone. Taking responsibility for making it better is the best thing you can do for your loved one – even if it might not feel like that. You are not saying that the person you care about is at fault for not being able to look after themselves without some help. There is no fault – it’s just the way things are.
Caring is not criticising
Caring is not judging
Caring is not calling someone incompetent
Getting professional help is the right thing to do – even though it may not feel like that at first. It’s important for you, especially if you have not had to do this before, and it’s absolutely fine to feel a little lost.

Asking for help is not:
A weakness
Saying you can’t cope
An admission of failure
There is nothing wrong with not knowing what to do and it certainly is not a failure on your part. Asking for help gives us a chance to play our part which is to find out what is going to make the biggest difference to the situation.
Make sure you think about yourself too. No one is a superhero and this change of circumstances will also affect you too. Someone you love is in difficulty and it can make you question your own future. It’s very normal and we all must do this at some point – it’s important to remember that:

You will be upset

You may need support
You can’t do this on your own
You can’t do this on your own – let us help you.