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What should you do if you or a family member has dementia? Here's some advice from an expert

Edel O’Connell from The Alzheimer Society of Ireland gives advice about ways to manage and live with dementia.

MANY PEOPLE HAVE an image in their mind of what life with dementia looks like. That image is often very bleak and typically conjures up images of an individual in later stages languishing in a nursing home bed.

So, it can be surprising to learn that many people with dementia continue to live well, socialise and stay involved in their communities for many years.

More than 55,000 people are living with dementia in Ireland today, and up to 63% of them live among us in our communities. People can and do live well with dementia.

After all, dementia is not a condition exclusive to older age, nor is it a natural part of ageing.

We at The Alzheimer Society of Ireland work with some incredibly impassioned and inspiring advocates who, despite living with this challenging condition every day, fight for their right to be heard.

Diagnosing dementia

Dementia is the name for a range of conditions that can cause damage to the brain. This damage can affect memory, thinking, language and the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

There are many conditions which cause dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause. Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia are other causes.

Everyone can be forgetful and struggle to put a name to a face or remember where the car is parked. But if you are worried about changes in memory, mood or ability to manage daily life, it is important to do something about it.

There are many reasons for memory loss and confusion apart from dementia. These can include anxiety and stress, depression, an infection, thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiency, side-effects of medications and conditions such as mild cognitive impairment or a stroke.

However, if you are worried for yourself or a loved one, it is a good idea to talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Being diagnosed early can help you get the right treatments and find the best sources of support, as well give you time to important decisions about the future.

Before you visit your doctor, make a note of the changes you have noticed and some examples of the things that are causing you concern. Keep a diary to help you.

What if I or someone close to me has dementia?

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form or dementia can come as a huge shock, no matter how expected it may have been. It can take time to adjust to this diagnosis and the changes that it brings.

However, many people with dementia and their families find that they do adjust and live well with this diagnosis.

There are many tips and strategies that people with dementia use.

Talk to people about dementia

It may feel like a daunting step, but talking to family and friends is important.

When you feel ready, you can decide how you do this. Your doctor can help you to tell your family about a diagnosis.

Talking with a doctor will help you to understand how dementia affects you or your loved one with dementia, what helps and what doesn’t help. It can also give you an opportunity to highlight the things you or your loved one can still do and how family and friends can help.

Develop strategies for daily life

There are positive steps people with dementia can take to help with day-to-day life. For most people with dementia, changes happen gradually. There is time to adjust and to find out what strategies work. Some tips include:

  • Be patient and allow more time to do things
  • Try to keep a routine
  • Write things down – keep a diary or use a notebook
  • Keep important things in the same place
  • Get to know good times of day
  • Eat healthily and keep hydrated
  • Exercise (pick an activity you enjoy!)
  • Make time to rest and relax
  • Enjoy life and enjoy the good moments
  • Laugh, a sense of humour is important

Keep active

Many people with dementia continue to do the things they enjoy or even take up new hobbies or interests.

At times help may be needed, but keeping active is very important. Gentle exercise, such as walking, and remaining engaged in your community through clubs or hobbies can make a huge difference to both the person with dementia and their family.

The Alzheimer Society has a new helpcard for people with dementia to use if they need help when out and about in their local community. To order free copies call our helpline or visit our website (details below).

Plan for the Future

At any time, planning for the future can feel overwhelming. When dealing with a diagnosis of dementia, it may feel like the last thing you want to do. But making decisions early is important.

Planning for the future can include:

  • Sorting out financial affairs, savings, income and debt
  • Talking to your solicitor about a will, power of attorney and other legal affairs
  • Talking to your family and your doctor about your wishes and preferences

While you may not need to worry about this for a long time, it’s important to have a plan for the worst case scenario.

Connect with supports and services

In many parts of Ireland, there are supports and services that can help.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland provides a range of services for people with dementia and their families. These include dementia advisers, Alzheimer cafés, and social clubs, home care and day and respite services.

For more information, you can call the Alzheimer Society of Ireland National Helpline on 1800 341 341 or visit their website.  

Edel O’Connell is communications manager with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland.

Read: What should I do if I feel a fluttering feeling in my chest? Here’s some advice from an expert

Read: Getting help: What to do if you or someone you know has an eating disorder

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