What is Dementia & How Can You Help Your Loved One?

How you can support your loved one this Christmas

Care for Dementia at Christmas

Seeing a loved one struggle with Dementia can be difficult, but there are lots of ways you can help and support them to live a comfortable and fulfilling life. Although many people will be looking forward to being reunited with loved ones this Christmas, we understand the challenges that come with supporting a family member living with Dementia, so we have answered some Dementia frequently asked questions to help you through the festive season.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe a variety of different conditions (or groups of symptoms) to do with the decline of a person’s neurological functions. Typically associated with old age, Dementia can take many different forms and affects people differently.

What causes Dementia?

Inside the brain, there are millions of neurones; nerve cells that transport chemical signals in order to “communicate”. Sometimes, these neurones can become damaged or start to break down, which is typically when someone will begin to exhibit symptoms of Dementia. 

Without these neurones functioning as they should, messages can’t get around the brain properly, which then affects other functions of the body.

Symptoms and signs of Dementia

Understanding how to spot the signs of Dementia in a loved one can help ensure they receive the right care when they need it. With Dementia, symptoms often start small and gradually progress over a period of time, so noticing them early and getting help can really help to maintain a sense of normality for you and your loved one. 

Symptoms of Dementia include: 

  • Memory loss
  • Reduction in mental sharpness
  • Reduction in thinking speed
  • Trouble with speaking and language
  • Difficulty understanding
  • Mood swings 
  • Difficulty with or changes in movement
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Difficulty with social situations

Are there different types of Dementia?

Yes, there are different types of Dementia, that all have slightly different symptoms and affect people in different ways. 

Some of the most common types of Dementia are: 

Alzheimer’s Disease

This is the most common form of Dementia in those over 65, and is caused by a malfunction in two naturally-occurring proteins in the brain. 

Vascular Dementia 

The second most common type of Dementia in those over 65, Vascular Dementia is caused by small blood clots forming in the brain, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the brain tissue.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is caused by the death of nerve cells and pathways in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, and it affects behaviour and personality.

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body Dementia is caused by abnormal clumps of protein within the brain. Called Lewy bodies, these clumps can affect cognitive function as well as impact movement.

Mixed Dementia

When someone is diagnosed with more than one type of Dementia, their condition is referred to as Mixed Dementia. 

Young Onset Dementia 

Young Onset Dementia (or Early Onset Dementia) is Dementia that is diagnosed in someone under the age of 65.

Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder caused by a faulty gene that affects the areas of the brain responsible for movement, learning, cognition and emotions. Because of the damage caused to the brain, someone with Huntington’s Disease can develop Dementia in the later stages.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s Disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain that’s linked to movement. As with Huntington’s Disease, someone with Parkinson’s Disease can go on to develop symptoms of Dementia as the disease progresses.

The stages of Dementia

Even though the symptoms and the speed at which they progress will differ from person to person, the condition will get progressively worse as more of the brain becomes affected. 

The early stages of Dementia 

During the early stages of Dementia, symptoms may be so slight they go relatively unnoticed for a while. Things like struggling to find the right word when speaking, having difficulty remembering names (especially when introduced to new people), and forgetting where objects have been placed can all be early symptoms of Dementia. 

The middle stages of Dementia

The middle stages of Dementia are when the symptoms progress to the point of your loved one needing a little extra help with a few things. They may suffer from mood swings or confrontational behaviour, or they may suffer from periods of confusion and forgetfulness. They may need assistance performing everyday tasks such as dressing, cooking or bathing, but with the right care they can still retain a feeling of independence. 

The late stages of Dementia

As Dementia progresses into the later stages, communication may become difficult. Your loved one will typically need around-the-clock care, and they may seem unaware of their surroundings, even in their own homes. Eventually Dementia care may progress into end of life care as more of the brain and body becomes affected.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of Dementia, and it accounts for around 60% of all Dementia diagnoses. Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by two proteins in the brain malfunctioning and causing damage that, like other types of Dementia, affects the brain’s ability to send messages and signals.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include: 

  • Confusion 
  • Difficulty recognising people, places or objects
  • Disorientation, even in familiar surroundings
  • Difficulty remembering recent events
  • Slow, muddled speech
  • Difficulties with organisation
  • Problems with decision making and planning

Different activities for people living with Dementia to help keep their minds active

Having Dementia shouldn’t stop someone from taking part in activities they enjoy. Helping them to keep up with some of their favourite hobbies such as painting, playing musical instruments, gardening or walking is a great way of spending time with them while also keeping them stimulated. 

Staying active is essential for someone with Dementia, and low-impact activities such as swimming, dance, tai chi or yoga will help your loved one to do so. Research classes specifically designed for people with Dementia or people in your loved one’s age bracket to add an extra social aspect to the activities. 

As Dementia affects cognitive function, activities that help to keep the mind alert can be very useful. From simple things like crosswords, sudoku and mental arithmetic exercises to attending Cognitive Stimulation Therapy groups, there are lots of ways you can keep your loved one mentally alert.

How to support someone with Dementia at Christmas

For many people, Christmas is a time for family, food and celebrating, and following the events of this year, seeing loved ones this Christmas will be particularly important. People living with Dementia can become overwhelmed during this time, with changes to their daily routines and seeing new faces. If you care for someone living with demantia, there are several ways you can help them cope during the festive period.

Decorate gradually

A sudden change in decor can be partcularly alarming to someone living with Dementia. A change in usual settings and new decorations can be a positive experience, if done in the right way.

Create a quiet space

Having a safe space to go to can be reassuring for your loved one living with dementia. Knowing there is a quiet place they can go to if they become overwhelemed by the noise is particularly important.

Keep the festivities simple

Familiarity and routine are important during the festive season. Keeping celebrations low key and sticking to a normal routine as much as possible will help create reasurance and security for your loved one.

Be flexible with your plans

You may have planned the big day, but be mindful that things may not go to plan, particularly if your loved one’s dementia is in the advanced stages. Be prepared for changes to your plans and have a plan B ready.

Bring back old memories

Whether it’s an old song or film your loved one used to enjoy, find something fun that all the family can get involved in. Creating a memory box or pulling out old photos can be a great way to help your loved one enjoy their day.

How to communicate with someone living with Dementia

Keeping your loved one communicating with their friends and family members is extremely important. Encourage them to join in conversations by asking them questions where possible, but be patient and allow them time to respond – they may have difficulty finding the right words. 

It’s vitally important not to get frustrated or make them feel pressured, although it can be difficult to watch a loved one struggle. Give them time and offer gentle help when needed, but try not to speak for them or make them feel as though they do not have a voice. 

Try asking them about the past, and encourage them to share stories and fond memories about their life that you can look back on together.

Dementia Care from Abbots Care

At Abbots Care, we use over 25 years of experience to offer expert-led dementia care to individuals and families who need it. We are proud to say that we were rated as Outstanding by the CQC, and that we were recently named one of the Top 20 Home Care Providers in the UK 2020.

Our care services cover Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire. Get in touch or call us on 0330 094 5511 to find out more about our services.

“The Care staff that are supporting my Mum through her Care Needs are extremely lovely and Supportive. Our Mum has cancer and she is receiving the most excellent and caring support from all Staff. We would just like to say a Huge thank you as we know that there is more difficult times ahead for us as a family. ”

Cancer CareChild of Service User, Buckinghamshire Branch

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