Last Updated on 8.7.16 by Michael Smoult
There are over 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. It is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes.
An article in the Guardian last summer written by the actor Christopher Eccleston and a recent article in the Irish News written by the comedian David Baddiel explain how their father’s battled with the disease and how it affected their lives.
In 2000 Christopher Eccleston’s father was diagnosed with vascular dementia – a disease where blood supply to the brain becomes reduced. As the disease developed Christopher explains how his father would forget his name and would frequently ask him if he was related to him. Christopher found that the best way to deal with this was to enter his father’s world. From that moment on Christopher explains how he stopped insisting he was his son and became his friend. He would refer to his father directly as his ‘pal’ and become quite playful with him, in a way to help them both cope with his debilitating disease.
David Baddiel’s father was diagnosed with Pick’s disease – another type of dementia. David explains the difficulty in talking about his father’s disease, and how he is often left with a choice; either to talk about it, knowing that the person you’re talking about may prefer this not to be known, or silence. David found the best way to deal with difficult subjects such as this was to talk about it and he has therefore decided to incorporate his father’s illness into his stand-up show later this year.
So can we learn anything from Christopher and David’s experiences of how to deal with dementia?
Charities provide a lot of guidance about how best to care for a person with dementia. When a person with dementia finds that their mental abilities are declining, they often feel vulnerable and in need of reassurance and support. The people closest to them, including their carers, friends and family, need to do everything they can to help the person to retain their sense of identity and feelings of self-worth. It can also have a traumatic effect on the family of the sufferer. Children often look to their parents for protection so when it seems they are unable to look after themselves, children can often feel vulnerable.
Each person is unique, with their own life history, personality, likes and dislikes. It is important therefore to focus on what the person still does have, not what they may have lost.
The main way you can help someone with dementia is by offering support sensitively and not to be too critical of what they do, as it can be very important for the person with dementia to feel that they’re still useful. Examples could be:-
- Memory aids around the home to help the person remember where things are. For example pictures on cupboard doors of what’s inside, such as cups and saucers;
- Helping a person to keep up their hobbies and interests. Cooking, walking and gardening are simple ways to get some exercise and a sense of achievement;
- Maintaining good health and nutrition. The longer they stay fit and healthy, the better their quality of life will be.
People often think of dementia as an inevitable part of growing old. Whilst the majority of people who suffer from dementia are over the age of 65, it is not part of the process of aging. Many people do lead long and healthy lives and may never suffer from the debilitating disease.
More and more people are preparing what is known as a Lasting Power of Attorney to help protect their property and their finances in the event that they are unable to do so themselves. Making a Lasting Power of Attorney whilst you still have the mental capacity to do so can help remove a lot of uncertainty and heart ache when a loved one’s finance’s may need immediate attention.
For information on Lasting Powers of Attorney and for help in preparing one please contact one of our experienced Solicitors in the Wills, Trusts and Probate department.
Partner & Head of Wills, Trusts & Probate, Wills, Trusts & Probate