The effects of dementia in day to day life
Dementia is not a disease in itself, it is an ‘umbrella term’ for a collection of over 100 different conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Depending on which form of dementia is diagnosed, the person will most likely experience an onset of varying symptoms such as memory loss, cognitive decline, attention span and personality changes.
This can have a massive impact on an individual’s daily life as they can go from living independently to needing care as time progresses, which can be difficult for them to adjust to, as well as those around them. Dementia is a progressive condition, meaning that as the person’s dementia advances they will need more and more support with everyday tasks. This might start off as simply reminding someone to do something, such as taking medication or eating, but will eventually lead to the person needing to be assisted to do these tasks or having them completely done for them.
This can be distressing for the person living with dementia but is often more so for those observing the changes in the person, such as loved ones and family members. This is why professional carers are often a better choice for someone in later-stage dementia rather than family members trying to carry out all of their care, as family members may feel emotionally as well as physically exhausted trying to manage on their own. Helping Hands’ dementia carers are well trained and encouraged to understand as much about their customer’s condition as possible, which is why homecare from us is an excellent option.
We offer dementia care on both a visiting and live-in care basis, and because we have over 30 years of experience in supporting our customers living with dementia and their families, you know you’ll be receiving the best quality dementia care possible.
Cognition refers to mental abilities such as thinking and memory, and when these are affected by dementia it can impact on every aspect of a person’s daily life. Good cognitive ability is necessary to be able to live in a fully independent manner, so as a person’s cognitive ability reduces they will most likely need some support with day-to-day tasks. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a recognised condition that, according to the Alzheimer’s Society is in some people “a ‘pre-dementia’ condition.
This means that the brain diseases that cause dementia are already established.” However, that isn’t always the case, as MCI can be caused by a variety of non-dementia related reasons too, including “depression, anxiety or stress…a physical illness, vitamin or thyroid deficiencies, or the side effects of medication.”
Regardless of the cause though, feeling that you are not able to think as clearly and productively as you once did, or recall information or memories can be unsettling and even frightening for many people. Therefore, it’s important to visit a GP and investigate the causes if you feel your cognitive ability has declined recently.
When you talk about dementia and how it affects the day to day life of an individual living with a form of the condition, most people would imagine that memory is the biggest issue. And it’s true that memory lapses may be the first indicator that something has changed in either yourself or a loved one that leads you to seek a medical professional’s opinion.
However, as Age UK say, “being forgetful doesn’t necessarily mean you have dementia.” Memory lapses can happen to anyone as they naturally age, and most people will forget where they have put their keys now and again for example. However, memory loss can have a detrimental effect on wellbeing and health if someone forgets an essential part of their routine, such as keeping clean, eating and drinking, or taking their essential medication, and those are the sort of circumstances when it would be prudent to source some level of professional care at home.
Judgement and attention
Due to the deterioration of certain parts of the brain, someone who is living with dementia may struggle to follow a conversation, ask you to repeat yourself or claim that you haven’t told them something that you already have. They may also tell you the same story several times in succession! What’s important to remember though is that none of this is being done deliberately by the person in order to be “difficult” or “cause trouble” for those around them, they genuinely can’t recall that it has already occurred.
Patience is therefore essential when you are around someone who is living with dementia, and although it can try a loved one’s patience when they are unable to have a structured conversation with the person living with dementia, it is going to be as frustrating or upsetting for them too.
Accepting that the person will probably not have the attention span that they once did means learning a different way to communicate together, whether that be through repetition, pictures, or other non-verbal means.
With certain types of dementia, commonly frontotemporal and similar, changes in behaviour can occur as these lobes control ‘morality’ decisions and how people conduct themselves in certain circumstances.
Therefore, someone with advanced dementia who is feeling too hot may remove all of their clothes in a public place, because the part of the brain that tells them that is not appropriate behaviour as an adult is no longer functioning. It can also be alarming for family members when a loved one who they’ve always known to act in a socially responsible way suddenly starts using bad language or making inappropriate or offensive comments to those around them.
This is also due to the ‘morality’ section of the brain being affected, causing the removal of boundaries and any learned ideas of appropriate behaviour. The NHS tell us that this can make some people living with dementia “seem cold and unfeeling” due to their “reduced sensitivity to others’ feelings” as well as “becoming obsessive”, having “difficulty finding the right words or understanding them” and a “lack of social awareness”. They also describe behavioural problems in the later stages of dementia such as “increased agitation, depressive symptoms, anxiety, wandering, aggression, or sometimes hallucinations.”
How can these effects be minimised?
The key thing to remember with all of these changes is that the person living with dementia is doing none of it on purpose. Their brain is being affected by the particular type of dementia they’re experiencing and is causing changes that they have no control over.
Therefore, patience and understanding are the key qualities that you need, as well as a good sense of humour for when there is no alternative but to laugh together. Trying to get inside the person’s world is essential when they’re living with dementia because that is the only way you can see things from their point of view and possibly understand why something is happening. For example, if your loved one is going around the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards at random don’t be tempted to label it as ‘wandering’ or ‘being difficult’, consider that an item important to them is not in the place they expected it to be and they’re simply looking for it.
Once you put yourself into their world, their behaviour doesn’t seem so unusual. Alzheimer’s Research UK has very useful information about how dementia commonly affects activities of daily living here.
Page reviewed by Kerry Feltwell, Regional Clinical Lead on July 16, 2021