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Dementia Awareness Week begins on July 3 (in England and Wales) and on July 12 in Northern Ireland, and aims to raise awareness of the problems faced by friends and family, as well as encouraging those caring for dementia sufferers to 'Remember the Person'.
If you are concerned about a friend or relative here are some of the signs and symptoms, as well as a few practical tips on how to cope and the help available.
What is dementia?
The term dementia covers a variety of brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, vascular and frontotemporal dementia. Such conditions are progressive and involve a decline in the brain's abilities, often leading to memory loss, difficulty understanding and problems making judgements.
Sufferers can find themselves having problems controlling their emotions and may begin to behave inappropriately. Dementia often causes the sufferer's personality to change and this can be particularly troubling for loved ones.
The symptoms of dementia can sometimes go unnoticed as they often develop gradually. Memory loss, periods of mental confusion and difficulty concentrating or planning are some of the early signs, while changes in personality (such as unusual aggression or sudden mood swings) may also point to a developing problem.
Hallucinations, a slow, shuffling walk and problems sleeping may also occur but the symptoms vary depending on the type dementia.
Although there is no known cure for dementia, some drug treatments can improve the symptoms or even temporarily slow the progression of the condition. Psychological treatments such as cognitive stimulation and behavioural therapy may benefit some. For those diagnosed with dementia, it is important to draw up a care plan with the help of medical professionals, social services and voluntary organisations. Be ready to ask for more information if you feel you need it, check what help and treatments are available and what changes you and/or your carer may need to make on a day-to-day basis.
Coping with dementia
Dementia is a progressive condition and as such, the symptoms will worsen over time. But staying independent for as long as it is safe is important. Therefore little things can make a big difference - for example, keeping a diary or notes to help you to remember important things, drawing up a weekly timetable, labelling cupboards and keeping essential items such as door keys in an obvious place can help you carry on a relatively normal life.
Keeping active with hobbies and interests and staying in contact with others, even if it is a local support group, can help to keep the mind stimulated and lessen the feeling of isolation.
As the symptoms become more severe, getting help around the home and with daily life is essential.
Whether you are a sufferer or a carer, dementia can be extremely stressful but there is help available. The Alzheimer's Society is an excellent resource for both - for more information, support and advice visit the website at www.alzheimers.org.uk.