How is dementia diagnosed?

If you or a person you know is showing symptoms or signs that they may have dementia, then making an appointment with a GP is the first step

The GP will consider the symptoms the person is presenting as well as their medical history. Where appropriate the GP will refer the person to specialist memory nurses or a memory clinic.

Here, further memory, thought and reasoning tests are carried out - the results from which are used by the GP to decide whether or not the person is suspected of having dementia.

Also, brain scans can also be used to help diagnose dementia.

Why is diagnosing dementia important?

An early diagnosis is important to ensure a person’s future quality of life and also to plan ahead. Dementia is a progressive condition, meaning the symptoms will become more noticeable over time.  It is important for the person, their family and friends that they are able to plan ahead and manage their care and quality of life moving forward.

Can dementia be cured?

No – whilst research is ongoing there is no cure for dementia. Depending upon the type and when a person is diagnosed, the progression of dementia can be slowed by medication and lifestyle choices such as exercise and keeping mentally stimulated.

How long do people with dementia live for?

Every person is different and depending upon when the person is diagnosed as well as the type of dementia they have , this will determine life expectancy. Some people can live many years with dementia whereas for others, the disease can progress quite quickly which is why putting plans in place is important.

Living with dementia

Diagnosed with dementia what now?

Is important that the person gains access to the support and information they need at this difficult time

Family and friends are the first people to offer support but also there are local support groups as well as health care providers and social services that can help a person manage their condition.

Immediate support

People diagnosed with dementia may have physical and mental health conditions so the GP will recommend any medication and other support such as physical care or mental health support to help the person with their diagnosis.

Care planning

Depending up the type of dementia and the severity of the symptoms it is important to plan future care. Initially, this might mean family and friends taking on more responsibility of even physical changes to the person’s home to make their living environment easier for them – e.g. climbing stairs

As a progressive disease, dementia symptoms will become more noticeable to a point where further care will be required. It is important to plan ahead so that the person with dementia can receive the right level of care they need.

Care options

Again depending upon the nature of the person’s health and their dementia, there are various care options available.

Local social services and adult social care services are best placed to offer this advice but care options range from:

Home care – offering support to people in the home with household chores, shopping, making meals as well as companionship.

Live In Care - enabling people to remain in their own homes with a full support service in place.

Residential Care homes – offer greater support to people with dementia who’s quality of life is such that they need more care and may have the need to be better looked after in a safe and structured environment.

Nursing Homes - offer nursing care for people with nursing needs alongside a dementia related condition.

Hospital – patients with dementia may require hospital treatment. Hospitals and hospital staff are trained in looking after people with dementia and have standards and duty of care to look after patients and their carers.

Financial and legal affairs

As dementia affects a persons mental capacity, it is important to put in place – where possible – measures that will safeguard their financial and legal affairs

A Will – if the person has mental capacity then a making a Will to set out what happens to the person’s estate is essential not only for peace of mind but also so the family are aware of the person’s wishes.

Lasting Power of Attorney – this is a legal document which sets out who, legally will be able to decisions of behalf of the person with dementia should their condition mean they are unable to take reasonable decisions themselves. It is important to consider having both Health and Financial Powers of Attorney in place.

A local Solicitor or Will Writer can help you with these vitally important documents - both of which help to plan ahead, make clear the person’s wishes and ensures they receive the care and attention they deserve.

Caring for someone with dementia

The caring role

Caring for and looking after someone with dementia is hugely rewarding but can also present challenges. It is close family members, partners and friends who initially provide care to someone who has dementia. Indeed, it is these people who often see the symptoms and suspect something is not quite right with their loved one or friend. So whilst receiving a dementia diagnosis may not be a surprise, it does take time to adjust to the changing situation.

Look after yourself

Often, when caring for someone else, it is easy to forget to look after yourself. It is important that a carer looks after their own health – eats well, sleeps well and maintains a healthy lifestyle. Also, carers need time for themselves and with others and there are various support groups available for carers

Support for carers

Check with your GP and Adult Social Care department at the local council. There are many different, local support groups to help carers. It is important to know and understand that you are not on your own.  Lots of people are caring for family members and friends who have dementia and these people are willing to help fellow carers – with practical help and support as well as a sympathetic ear.

Carers Assessment

Adult Social Care through the local council can also provide a carers assessment. This is free and anyone can apply. A carer’s assessment will look to see if your life as a carers can be made easier such as through:

- Respite care so you, as the carer can have a break from the caring role
- Help with household chores such as the shopping
- Benefits advice for carers
- Helping with transport
- Training how to lift people safely
- Putting you in touch with support groups

Manage Expectations

As a carer, you will have many demands placed upon you – not just in your caring role but maybe through work or other family responsibilities – e.g. looking after children or grand-children. The key is to set priorities – what is important and focus on that. Don’t try to take on or do too much.

Dementia Progression

One of the most difficult challenges of caring for someone with dementia is seeing their condition progressively decline. Indeed, the person themselves may get frustrated and upset that they can’t remember things or manage to complete tasks in the way they once did. Try to reassure them and also focus on the things they can do rather than the things they can’t.

Talk to others

It is common for carers to suffer from guilt – feeling they are not doing enough or if they get frustrated with the person they are caring for. This is normal and understandable.  Talking to others and getting support either from family members or via asking for a carers assessment will help the carer understand and overcome such feelings

Time for professional care support

Homecare – with people providing daily assistance for someone with dementia can really help with caring responsibilities. This can be light touch help and support with household chores to more one to one care for the person with dementia. There are a number of homecare providers who have to be registered with the Quality Care Commission. Adult Social Care through your local council will be able to direct you to homecare providers.

Moving to a care home

A time may come, where the loved one may need to move into a care home – where round the clock, specialist care can be provided. When choosing a care home, make a list of factors you are looking for such as:

- Garden
- En-suite
- Meal Choices
- Friendly and Caring Staff
- Comfortable overall  environment
- CQC ratings
- Distance e.g. 10 miles radius
- Affordability

Once a person with dementia moves into a care home, your own caring role will change so be prepared for this change. Take time to adapt and understand the affect of such a change on you as well as the person with dementia.

End of life care and bereavement

Making a care plan whilst the person with dementia is able so to do, means it is easier to plan for end of life care. What are those person's wishes? What type of funeral would they like? What about the Will and their Estate? It is easier for everyone if there is clarity about a person's wishes up to and after their death.

When dealing with bereavement it is important to remember, people experience grief in different ways but it is important to allow emotions to flow and experience the full range of emotions you will feel – sadness, emptiness, fondness, relief, happiness, guilt, why me? etc. This is a natural process. There are various support groups available to help people experience grief. Counselling and other bereavement support is available from your GP.

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