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Dementia

Dementia is a term used to describe various disorders involving a loss of brain function, such as thinking, memory, reasoning and language. There are many types of dementia. The most common types are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • vascular dementia
  • dementia with Lewy bodies
  • frontotemporal dementia
  • mixed dementia such as, vascular and Alzheimer’s combined

In the UK it affects around 850,000 people. This impacts not just on the person who has dementia but also on families and carers but also wider society. There are more than 40,000 people under the age of 65 currently living with dementia in the UK.


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Signs, symptoms and assessment

Symptoms of dementia can include:
  • Problems with short term memory or loss of memory
  • Lack of concentration
  • Confusion, including anger and aggression
  • Problems with communication and language (struggling for find the right word)
  • Self-neglect
  • Mood changes
  • Sleep disturbance and
  • Hallucinations
  • It is important to remember that there could be many other reasons for having any of the above symptoms. Having any of them does not necessarily indicate dementia. If you are worried, speak to your GP.

Diagnosis of dementia

It is important to get a diagnosis of dementia as early as possible because you and the health professional can:

  • rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms and may be treatable, including depression, chest and urinary tract infections, severe constipation, and vitamin and thyroid deficiencies
  • rule out other possible causes of confusion (eg poor sight or hearing), emotional changes and upsets (eg moving house or bereavement), or the side effects of certain drugs or combinations of drugs
  • provide a person with dementia with an explanation for their symptoms, removing uncertainty and allowing them to begin to adjust
  • allow a person with dementia to access treatment as well as information, advice and support (emotional, practical, legal and financial)

Assessment

The Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) is the most commonly used test for problems with memory or other mental abilities.  MMSE is only one part of assessment for dementia. Clinicians will consider a person’s MMSE score alongside their history, symptoms, a physical exam and the results of other tests, possibly including brain scans.

Advice and support


Dementia and risk prevention

There is no single factor that has been identified as causing dementia. However, the following factors are thought to contribute:

  • Age  It is possible to develop dementia early in life but the chances of this increase dramatically as we get older. One in five people over the age of 80 has a form of dementia. One in three people over the age of 95 has a form of dementia.
  • Gender  Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men, however, vascular dementia is more common in men.
  • Genetic inheritance – There are cases where dementia is clearly inherited from one generation to the next. However, in the majority of cases, the effect of inheritance seems to be small. If a parent or relative has dementia, your own chances of developing it are only slightly higher than if there were no previous cases in the family.
  • Medical history – Specific conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s Disease and Down’s Syndrome can increase the chances of developing dementia. Conditions that affect the heart can increase the risk of developing vascular dementia. This includes high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
  • Physical exercise – Regular physical exercise may help lower the risk of some types of dementia. Evidence suggests exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
  • Diet – What you eat may have its greatest impact on brain health through its effect on heart health. The best current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasises whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and monounsaturated fats including nuts, oily fish and olive oil.

Some risk factors for dementia, such as age and genetics, cannot be changed. But researchers continue to explore the impact of other risk factors on brain health and prevention of dementia. Some of the most active areas of research in risk reduction and prevention include cardiovascular factors, physical fitness, and diet.

Cardiovascular risk factors

Your brain is nourished by one of your body’s richest networks of blood vessels. Anything that damages blood vessels anywhere in your body can damage blood vessels in your brain, depriving brain cells of vital food and oxygen. Blood vessel changes in the brain are linked to vascular dementia. They often are present along with changes caused by other types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. These changes may interact to cause faster decline or make impairments more severe. You can help protect your brain with some of the same strategies that protect your heart – don’t smoke; take steps to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar within normal limits; and maintain a healthy weight. 

Am I at risk of developing dementia? Alzheimer’s Society explains more about the possible causes of dementia and how to reduce your risk of developing the condition.


Decision making with dementia

If you have dementia you may find it difficult to make decisions. Planning ahead is important in case you are unable to make important decisions in the future.

Tell your carers and family members what you want. You can make legal arrangements to make sure that your wishes are carried out. For example you can arrange:

  • Power of Attorney to help you with your health and wellbeing or financial management if you have been diagnosed with dementia
  • Wills

The Mental Capacity Act is a law that is designed to help. The Act intends to protect people who lose the capacity to make their own decisions and will:

  • allow you to appoint someone (such as a trusted relative or friend) to make decisions on your behalf once you lose the ability to do so, including decisions on your health and personal welfare, as well as on your financial matters
  • ensure that the decisions made on your behalf are in your best interests

introduce a Code of Practice for people who support individuals who have lost the capacity to make their own decisions.

See Making decisions (Mental capacity) for more information.


Caring for someone with dementia

As a carer you have rights and may be entitled to a Carer’s Allowance, which can help pay to support you as a carer and help you take a break. It’s really important that you take care of yourself too.

Newcastle Carers offer a range of services to carers including;


Technology that can help

Dementia can make aspects of day to day life more difficult for the person living with the condition and in some cases it may also put them at risk. Around the home, things like repeatedly mislaying keys can be frustrating, while others like leaving the gas on and unlit can be dangerous.

Assistive technology refers to devices or systems that support a person to keep their independence, safety and wellbeing. There are many different ways that devices can help people with dementia, and also give carers support and reassurance when looking after someone with dementia.

Examples of assistive technology include:

  • Motion sensor prompts and reminders for example, a sensor placed near the front door could remind someone to lock the door, or one in the kitchen could remind someone to turn the oven off.
  • Automatic calendar clocks that display whether it is day or night-time
  • Medication aids to remind people when to take their medication
  • locator devices to help someone find things they regularly misplace, such as keys or a wallet
  • safety and community care alarm devices including fall sensors, telephone blockers and automatic lights
  • Read the Alzheimer’s Society’s article on assistive technology for more information.
Telecare and other equipment

There are other tools that can help if you struggle with mild memory loss. For example, simple calculators, noticeboards or sticky notes. Read our article on Keeping your brain active for more information.

Items to help you if you have difficulty with mobility, continence, sight and hearing are not considered to be assistive technology, but can still improve your quality of life. Read our article on adaptations, equipment and aids for more information.


Local help and support

If you, or someone you know, are diagnosed with dementia, it can be a very worrying and upsetting time. There is a lot of advice and support available to help you to live with the condition and to maintain your quality of life.

Dementia Advice Centre in West Denton offers support, advice, reassurance, signposting, information, training, activities, groups and more.

Alzheimer’s Society Newcastle provides confidential information, advice and support services to people with dementia, their carers and professionals. Their services include:

  • Public information talks
  • Information service
  • Carer Information and Support Programme
  • Dementia Support Service – including a monthly carers group and a drop-in club.
  • Day Service for people with dementia

Silverline Memories run a carers support group.  Search in our Events and Activities section – type ‘Silverline’ in the ‘Browse by organiser’ box.

Dementia Care is the largest specialist dementia service provider in Newcastle. They offer a wider range of services.

Alzheimer’s Society is the UK’s leading charity for people with all forms of dementia, their families and carers. They offer support and advice on all forms of dementia and sources of help.

Extra Care Housing

The Council now has an extra care housing scheme specifically designed for people with Dementia in Dinnington. This scheme comprises five bungalows, each with 5 bedrooms. The 24-hour support is over and above that required for the standard extra care schemes.  Contact Community Health and Social Care Direct between 8am and 5pm to arrange a care assessment.


Dementia friendly activities and events

Information NOW has a category of dementia events which include Carers Cafes, dances and support groups.

Dementia Friendly Screenings at the Tyneside Cinema are fortnightly daytime screenings for people with dementia and their families and carers.

Silverline Memories run dementia cafes, lunch groups and have a memory bus to help people get out and about to events.  Some of their events include Reminiscence sessions where they bring a range of items of Memorabilia to spark memories and story telling.

  • Newcastle Libraries run the ‘Reading Well Books on Prescription‘ scheme. The collection provides:
  • Information and advice about dementia and normal ageing
  • Support following diagnosis
  • Practical help for carers
  • Personal accounts of people with dementia and their relatives and carers
  • Suggested therapeutic activities.
  • If you have a Newcastle Library card you can pick the books directly up from one of Newcastle’s participating libraries, or you could be prescribed a book from your GP or care worker.

Chain Reaction run a dementia friendly reading group for over 55’s with memory issues in Gosforth. Each session focuses on reading a short story, with breaks to talk about the plot and character development and the story.  It’s free to attend and includes an opportunity to chat, have a cuppa and socialise with others in the group at the end of the session. Places are limited. Call to find out more information and book a place.

Alzheimer’s Society Newcastle run a regular  ‘Singing for the Brain’ class.  Search in our Events and Activities section – type ‘alzheimer’ in the ‘Browse by organiser’ box.

Silverline Memories run a monthly tea dance.  Search in our Events and Activities section – type ‘Silverline’ in the ‘Browse by organiser’ box.

Games for the brain is an activity group giving people with dementia the opportunity to take part in structured activities and socialise at a number of venues.

Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Connect allows you to search for activities and groups in your area.

The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art run Creative Age sessions. These are friendly, creative and inclusive sessions for older adults exploring contemporary art in a dementia– friendly environment. Contact Equal Arts for more information.

Jesmond Dementia Action Alliance hold a range of events throughout the year.  You can find out about them and the activities at Jesmond Library.


Dementia cafes and day clubs

Dementia cafes are a safe, comfortable and supportive environment for people with dementia and their carers to socialise. They also provide information about living with dementia and local services that are available. You can find a full list of Dementia cafes in our Food and Friends article.


Information in Other Languages

Alzheimer’s Society has a translation service and  produces a number of information sheets and other publications in different languages.


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Last updated: May 22, 2019

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