What is dementia?

Dementia is a set of symptoms that might include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.

Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by disease. Many of these diseases are associated with an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain. This build-up then causes nerve cells to function less well and ultimately die. As the nerve cells die, different areas of the brain shrink. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but this is not the only cause. Others causes may be vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies or frontotemporal dementia.

How might it affect the person I am caring for?

The specific symptoms that someone with dementia experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia. Some of the common sorts of problems they might have is:

  • Poorer day-to-day memory – for example, difficulty recalling events that happened recently, or asking questions repeatedly that have already been answered.
  • Difficulty concentrating, planning or organising – for example, unable to make decisions or find it hard to problem solve or carrying out a sequence of things to complete a task.
  • Difficulties with language – for example, finding it hard to follow a conversation or not being able to think of the right word for something.
  • Poorer visuospatial skills – for example, problems judging and seeing objects in three dimensions.
  • Feeling disorientated – for example, losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are.

Coping with these changes as a carer

It can be difficult to see a loved one struggle to remember, or change from the person you knew. Dementia can affect their behaviour and mood and this can be difficult to cope with. For instance, they may become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. With some types of dementia, the person may see things that are not really there or strongly believe delusions that are not true.

It can be helpful to read up on the type of dementia the person you care for has, so you can understand better what is going on. This can also make it easier to ask questions and get support from your doctor. For example, our carer Jennifer talks of Oliver James’s book Contented Dementia, being for her, essential basic reading. Another one of our carer’s, Rose, also highlights the importance of getting lasting power of attorney early on so she could talk to her husband’s GP.

If you are struggling with their changes in behaviour, Alzheimer’s Society has some great resources for coping and managing challenging, difficult or upsetting behaviour in someone with dementia. You can read more on the Alzheimer’s Society website.

Some key things to think about to help manage these symptoms may be:

  • A regular schedule or daily routine
  • Doing activities together and talking to the person you care for as much as you can
  • Arranging activities that they like or used to like
  • Try not to argue even when they beliefs or thoughts are not true, this can become more distressing for both of you
  • Keep familiar or sentimental items nearby so they can be used as a means of comfort

What activities could I do with the person I’m caring for?

Reminiscence – There are a number of groups across Dorset with different themes each session to give you a chance to reminiscence with the person you care for and others. For example, many Dorset Libraries provide Reminiscence groups , although currently their events are virtual only. You can find out more about their events on the Dorset Libraries Website.

Stepping into Nature across Dorset – They provide outdoor activities for people with dementia and their carers. Their website provides resources and places to visit with the person you care for. They are also currently offering a free book on spring which can be something to explore together with the person you are caring for.

Singing for the brain – Alzheimer’s Society provide a number of music therapy and singing groups for those with dementia that enjoy singing. You can find your local one on the Alzheimer Society’s find support near you page.

Looking after yourself

Although, you are not the person experiencing dementia it can have a huge impact on you as a carer. You might know the person you care for is behaving in certain ways because of the dementia but even so it can still be challenging to deal with and take a huge emotional toll. Rose, in her carer story describes how difficult it because ‘The person you married and loved is not that person anymore, but it’s not their fault.’

Therefore, it’s important to have a space to talk about these changes and the effects it is having on you. This might be with a friend of relative. If you feel like you don’t have anyone to share this with you could register for our Here to talk befriending service. It can also be useful to write out how you are feeling or what has been happening. This could also be done as a support service, such as emailing the Samaritans on jo@samaritans.org.

If you feel you need more support you can email us at admin@carersupportdorset.co.uk or call us on 0800 368 8349, our opening hours are Monday-Thursday, 9.30am-4.30pm and Friday 9.30am-4pm. We also have a number of pages on mental health support if you are finding it difficult to cope.