Let’s talk about Dementia
Today we’re venturing into an area that we’re all probably aware of, have possibly been affected by it but an area we generally don’t talk about. I’m referring to MENTAL HEALTH. The biggest challenge with mental health is that it isn’t as tangible as physical health. It’s usually easier to tell if a person is physically fit or if they are in pain or have an injury. It’s also easier to deal with physical health issues – we try home remedies and if those don’t work we rush to the hospital and seek help. Unfortunately mental health issues are not that straightforward to deal with – there is stigma attached and therefore we often don’t acknowledge their existence and even once we are aware of a mental illness, we try and ignore it and wish it away. And we definitely don’t like to talk about the issues. Generally physical health trumps mental health.
Mental health issues include depression, anxiety and dementia. Today I’d like to focus on DEMENTIA.
And before we carry on, I have one request – if you have been affected by this condition and would like to share your story or some tips or would just like to vent, then please get in touch.
What is dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease – dementia is a general term referring to a decline in mental ability, communication and thinking, serious enough to affect daily living. Alzheimer’s disease (a chronic neurodegenerative disease, that starts slowly and worsens over time) accounts for 60% – 80% of dementia cases.
Dementia (and Alzheimer’s disease) generally affects older people but younger people can also be affected – even people in their 30s!
Whilst memory loss is a common part of ageing, there is a big difference between memory loss and dementia. Dementia mostly affects older people but is not a normal part of ageing.
Many of us may feel that dementia is a “western” concept or problem, but it is a very common issue in Kenya, across various communities and families. One of the challenges in Kenya is getting a diagnosis so many people are living with the condition without even knowing about it.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
One of the most common symptoms is memory loss (more short-term than long-term) – asking the same questions again and again.
Other symptoms include reduced concentration, increased confusion, disorientation, misplacing things, apathy, depression, difficulty in communication and difficulty completing familiar tasks. As the condition progresses mood swings and random outbursts increase and there is a change in personality.
What should one do if their loved one is diagnosed with dementia?
Diagnosis is a very crucial step – it’s often difficult to get the right diagnosis. But once diagnosed, the hardest part is the acceptance – both, for the individual and their family and friends.
It is important to accept the diagnosis and make an action plan for the future. One of the toughest things about dementia is that regardless of what you do, it is likely to get worse over time.
The treatment depends on the cause of dementia. There is no cure or treatment for most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease. However there are treatments that improve the symptoms. There is a vast amount of research being conducted to try and find a cure and hopefully we’re close to finding one! But at this stage it is important to accept now is probably the best it’s going to be – and it is probably going to get worse. It’s a very tough and painful reality, but once you accept it you can find ways to deal with it and enjoy the moments you have with your loved one.
Some things to do for your loved one who has dementia
- Make sure they make a will – immediately
- Encourage them to appoint a Power of Attorney (s) to help manage affairs including property, finances, medical treatments etc.
- Advance care planning – get them to think about what sort of medical care they’d like in the future or where and how they’d like to be cared for. This makes it much easier in future.
- Probably a good idea for them to stop driving and avoid cooking when they’re on your own.
- Encourage them to eat healthy, exercise regularly, have regular dental, eyesight and hearing checks
- Find ways to keep them occupied and take care of their mind – depression is very common amongst those suffering from dementia
- Ensure they carry on with hobbies – arts & crafts, reading, listening to music, sports (we have a range of activities on offer for people with dementia including art therapy, music therapy, colouring sessions, bingo etc).
- Put together a scrapbook of their favourite songs, photos, moments, memories to come back to in future (get in touch with the Arama team – we can help you put one together).