What is dementia?
Firstly it is important to say that there are a number of different dementias, Alzheimer’s being the most common. The purpose of the diagnosis of the specific kind of dementia is that it is helpful to understand how the illness will progress, having said that I’ve never yet met a single client who is exactly the same as another one. I’ve had clients with some aspects of their healthcare presentation like others, but never the entire presentation.
The definition of dementia is a collection of symptoms caused by gradual death of brain cells. The loss of cognition that happens with dementias leads to impairments in memory, reasoning, planning, and sometimes behaviour, but dementia is not an inevitable part of aging. What is key to this definition is that it is a change and a deterioration from their earlier cognitive abilities.
The outcome of dementia is that person with dementia loses control of many of the essential features of his life and their personality, and loved ones “lose” a family member even before they have passed away, so the families often have to cope with the burdens of increasing dependence, care and unpredictability.
So what is it like to have dementia? Firstly I have to say, I don’t know, I don’t have dementia. I’ve been advised that in first instance the brain adapts to the loss of some cells and in some cases in the earlier stages the individual will not necessarily know about it, but eventually they will.
What is see in with people who have dementia is that in the early stages they go through a bereavement process, as they realise that they are losing themselves. They are angry, isolated and upset. They feel lonely and helpless. They can often be very worried about admitting to having dementia and so will often not admit to it and therefore develop coping strategies to hide their loss of function. So I’ve seen people who nod and answer “yes” to most questions, to hide that they don’t understand the question for example.
People with dementia need care, understanding and support. It is not their fault that they have developed this disease. I was proud to be part of the award ceremony recently in which Plymouth was awarded the status of being the first city in the UK to be dementia friendly.