I recently did a workshop with the Alzheimer’s society and became a Dementia friend. Until this point I didn’t realise how little I knew about dementia and was shocked by all the misconceptions that I had. After talking to others who also took part in the workshop, I noticed just how common this was. Before taking part I thought I had a good understanding of dementia but oh how wrong I was. Because of this I thought I would tell you a few things I have learnt, as well as letting you know how you can get involved and learn more (I would highly recommend it!).
Dementia is an umbrella term
‘Dementia’ isn’t a disease in itself but instead a series of diseases with similar symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, and effects over two thirds of people aged over 65. Other types of dementia include Vascular Dementia which can occur when blood flow to the brain is reduced, and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) which is caused by damage to cells in the frontal lobe
Dementia is not just losing your memory
As well as memory loss, dementia comes with numerous other symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, difficulties in communication, personality changes, mood swings and aggression – the latter few being the hardest symptoms to deal with.
Changes in humour can be a sign of early dementia
A study by Clark et al. (2015) has found a preference shift for slapstick, satirical humour can be a subtle hint of dementia that can signal problems up to 9 years before other symptoms start to show. During the study 48 friends and relatives of people with dementia were interview and some of the most striking findings were found for frontotemporal dementia (the most common form of dementia in under 55s).
“As sense of humour defines us and is used to build relationships with those around us, changed in what we find funny has impacts far beyond picking a new favourite TV show. Humour could be a particularly sensitive way of detecting dementia because it puts demands on so many different aspects of brain function, such as puzzle solving, emotion and social awareness” – Clark, 2015
Dementia can affect anyone
Although age is the biggest risk factor, you don’t have to be old to have dementia! As well as this, dementia has a number of causes and many of these are unknown – however we do know genes and lifestyle play a part in it. Something that is a hot topic in the news at the moment is a potential link between football players and dementia. This is due to the sue of the players’ head to control the ball (the average player headers the balls over 2000 times during a 20-year career – not including drills and practices!) As for gender, the Office for National Statistics recently released an article showing females are more likely to suffer from dementia than males… but not by much! The statistics also show dementia as the leading cause of death in England and Wales after overtaking heart disease in 2016. However…
Dementia isn’t a cause of death
Although it is written on thousands of death certificates each year, dementia itself isn’t a cause of death. In most cases it is the complications that arise from dementia that can shorten life; the most common complication being pneumonia. There are currently no cures for dementia and the research into finding a cure is severely underfunded. Therefore, it is critical we help get the word out as at the end of the day dementia is likely to affect all of us directly or indirectly at some point in our lives. Every 1 in 6 people will have the condition by the time they are 80 years old!
Dementia friends is the biggest ever initiative created to change people’s perceptions of dementia. Their aim is to ‘transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition’. It’s all about spreading awareness and teaching everyone the small things they can do to help someone with dementia! On their website, there are links to show you where the next information sessions are being held, which are so interesting and can be a lot of fun. They also have an online video so you can learn all about it from the comfort of your own bed! Check it out: https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk