What is Dementia?
Dementia is the umbrella term referring to a range of neurological disorders that affect brain functioning; leading to difficulties associated with memory, thinking, language and problem-solving.
Dementia is an extremely tragic condition that affects individuals in different ways. Alzheimer’s is the most common sub-type of dementia, with reportedly over 500,000 sufferers in the UK and many more undiagnosed.
Dementia is a progressive disease which means that over time, symptoms tend to worsen as the disease inflicts more damage to the brain.
What does Dementia do to the brain?
Our brains are made up of millions of nerve cells called neurons that communicate to each other and this allows us to function normally.
However, dementia damages these neurons and this disrupts the transmission process of messages to and from the brain and body; disabling the body and creating neurological difficulties.
What are common early signs of Dementia?
Although dementia is a highly individualistic disease, there are some common traits that tend to indicate signs of early on-set dementia.
The most common symptom that characterises dementia is memory loss, and in particular, short-term memory loss.
It often takes a while to notice any issues as memory loss can be subtle. Long-term memories may be incredibly clear to recall but something that may have happened only a few hours ago has been completely forgotten.
An example of short-term memory loss could be a person forgetting what they have had for lunch, where they might have put something or forgetting the reason as to why they went out.
This might seem trivial and easily attributed to elderly forgetfulness but in some cases, this can mean something else.
Difficulty with everyday tasks
People suffering with dementia can have extreme difficulty performing everyday tasks.
They might struggle to perform household tasks or maintain personal hygiene.
Mood and behavioural changes
Mood and personality changes can be one of the most jarring symptoms of dementia, not just for the sufferer but also for friends and family of the sufferer.
A person might experience mood swings and seem to adopt a new personality as a result of dementia.
A sufferer might become less emotional, show less interest in hobbies they have always loved or appear different to how they have always seemed before.
A person might also seem to struggle to manage their emotions a lot more and may become easily frustrated, leading to outbursts. They may also begin to make questionable judgements i.e. dressing up for a cold day on a hot day.
Language and communication difficulties
Communication may become a problem for sufferers of dementia. A person may struggle to express themselves as the right words don’t seem to come to them.
It might be difficult to understand what the person is trying to say. They might have difficulty with trying to describe recent events or objects, and this can severely weaken any form of communication.
Confusion about places a person has visited many times or an inability to recall dates or times can be indicative of early signs of dementia.
They might, for instance, begin to search for kitchen items in other places and frequently get confused about where they are.
When to contact your GP
As early dementia symptoms can be difficult to spot, this can mean that it takes a long time for a dementia diagnosis to be given.
It is important to note that if someone is exhibiting some of the above symptoms, this does not mean that they have dementia.
However, if you suspect that you or someone you know may be showing early signs of dementia and/or are worried about the symptoms, then you should contact your GP for an assessment as soon as you are able.
What support is available?
Dementia sufferers are entitled to a number of financial benefits in order to assist with making day to day life more accessible and manageable.
Attendance Allowance is a benefit paid by the government in order to assist people of state pension age and above who suffer with physical or mental disability.
You can find out more information about attendance allowance here.
If you are entitled to Attendance Allowance, then you should also be entitled to Housing Benefit.
You can make a claim by calling 0800 731 0122 Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 3:30pm.
Carers of people who receive disability benefits can also receive financial support. To be eligible, you need to be:
- over the age of 16
- spend a minimum of 35 hours per week caring for someone
- earn no more than £128 per week once necessary expenses are taken out
- not be receiving other benefits such a state pension
Council Tax Reduction
Some people are eligible for council tax reductions. If a person with dementia is entitled to Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, then they should not have to pay council tax in the UK.
If a person is living with someone who has dementia, then they are entitled to a 25% council tax reduction.
To apply for a council tax reduction, you need to call your local council tax department and ask for a ‘mental impairment’ form to fill in.
Disability Premium is a benefit added to Income Support and you can be entitled to Disability Premium if you are under pension credit age.
If you are eligible, then you do not have to make a claim to receive Disability Premium as it will automatically be added to your Income Support.
If you are having issues with receiving your Disability Premium, contact your local Jobcentre Plus for further advice on 0800 055 6688, Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.
Personal Independent Payment
People in the UK living with a long-term condition that affects their health or ability to function are entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which is tax-free and eligible for people over the age of 16 who have a health condition or disability that affects day to day living.
To make a claim, call the Department of Work and Pensions PIP claims on 0800 917 2222, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Dementia sufferers can appoint a legal representative to make important decisions regarding health, welfare and finance on their behalf.
A formal document known as a Lasting Power of Attorney is used to appoint an attorney either with regards to making decisions about health and welfare, medical treatment or about finances and managing a home.
People with dementia or those caring for someone with dementia should be eligible for a Blue Badge. A Blue Badge is given to people with disabilities or health conditions and allows you to park closer to a chosen destination.
To find out more information about applying for a Blue Badge, contact your local council.
As dementia symptoms get worse, this can lead to a sufferer becoming increasingly confused and unable to manage day to day life. This can lead to them making a number of phone calls to different numbers.
BT offers a service called Network Controlled Calling which limits a user to calling up to 10 different numbers. These contacts might be friends, family, carers etc – and any other numbers can be blocked.
For more information about this blocking service, call BT on 0800 919 591 Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm.
Hot Meals – Wiltshire Farm Foods
Cooking and maintaining a healthy diet can be extremely difficult for people suffering with dementia.
To offer assistance with this, there are a number of food delivery companies that can deliver hot meals to a person with dementia on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
Wiltshire Farm Foods offer a service to deliver hot meals to dementia sufferers and will provide the same driver each time (who will be assessed beforehand).
For more information about this food delivery service, contact Wiltshire Farm Foods 24 hour line at 0800 077 3100.
A GP can refer a dementia patient to an Occupational Therapist and you might be able to receive a free wheelchair.
For information on wheelchairs and other forms of caring aid, contact your GP for advice.
Residential care homes
As a person’s symptoms of dementia begin to worsen, they will need an increasing amount of support and care.
It might mean that they need to live in a residential care home to receive full-time care by trained professionals.
A residential care home might seem like a scary option but there are many benefits, including the fact that 24-hour care is provided as well as peace of mind knowing that a loved one is in a safe space having their needs tended to.
It also allows people with dementia to interact with other residents and they might not be having as much social interaction right now.
This is a big decision and one to assess from all angles. It is good to discuss the matter with loved ones and the person with dementia to decide on the best course of action.
Find out more information regarding dementia care at Highpoint Care here.
- Age UK
- Carers Trust
- Carers UK
- Citizens Advice
- Dementia UK
- Independent Age
- Parkinson’s UK
- Pathways Through Dementia
- YoungDementia UK
- Alzheimer’s Research UK
- The Silver Line
Online Forums – Talking Point
Dementia can be extremely isolating and difficult to speak about, especially as each experience is so unique and debilitating. Online forums can be a useful outlet to voice your experiences and connect with like-minded individuals.
The Alzheimer Society has an online forum called Talking Point which is a forum for people with dementia to share information, advice and support for one another.
There is also a community for carers: Carers UK forum.