Life & Culture

Let's discuss dementia

Diagnosis allows time to make provision for family


As there is currently no cure for dementia, families often ask if there is any point getting a diagnosis. Some 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia and this is set to rise to more than a million by 2025. As we live longer, this disease is likely to impact us all in one way or another.

Although upsetting, an early diagnosis of dementia is important and could improve the quality of life for people living with dementia and access to support for those caring for them. Not getting a diagnosis will not change the inevitable, but may well increase the challenges an individual with dementia and their family have to negotiate.

“Dementia” describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function. These conditions are usually progressively degenerative. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting 62 per cent of those diagnosed. Other types include vascular dementia, affecting 17 per cent of people diagnosed and mixed dementia, affecting ten per cent.

The symptoms of dementia include memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding.*

Receiving a diagnosis as soon as possible can be a relief to the person who is living with dementia, as well as for their carers, allowing them to finally understand the symptoms they have been living with. It also enables them to gain access to information, resources and support, so they can benefit from the range of services available to help them to live well with dementia.

A diagnosis can often open the door for honest discussions in a family, allowing everyone to share their hopes and preferences for future care, while the person with dementia is still able to express this.

It can allow time to make provision for other family members while they still can and the opportunity to set up legal instructions, such as a will and lasting power of attorney.

Although there is no cure for dementia yet, there is medication that may slow down, temporarily alleviate or stabilise some symptoms for some people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.*

Cognitive stimulation therapy for the patient at the point of diagnosis and group work have also been shown to have positive benefits in slowing down the deterioration, for all types of dementia.

Having a diagnosis and being open about dementia helps a person develop positive personal strategies to deal with the symptoms and to include family and friends in that too.

Alerts for medication and appointments can be helpful. And you could ask friends to remind the person living with dementia of any upcoming social events. The person living with dementia could also carry a help card (available from Alzheimer’s Society) in case they become confused or lost when they are out. Businesses such banks are usually supportive. Once informed, they may offer additional assistance, specialist digital software, gadgets and apps.

If you are worried about your own memory, or that of a friend or family member, it is important to see the GP first, as there are several other illnesses where memory loss is a treatable symptom, such as thyroid disease, depression and certain infections.

Many people are diagnosed through their GP and are referred to memory services for a thorough assessment and sensitive confirmation of diagnosis. They will also arrange signposting to any of the other local services available to people living with dementia.

In many other fields of medicine, one would not even consider concealing a terminal diagnosis from a patient and consequently preventing them from making plans about their future care or provisions for other family members. This would be seen as paternalistic and an anathema. So why should we exclude patients with dementia from being able to make these decisions?



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