Dementia is not itself a disease, it is a collection of symptoms that result in cognitive decline caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There are over 100 different types of dementia caused by a range of different diseases, so it’s obvious that everyone who is diagnosed with dementia is going to have a very personalised experience; there is definitely no ‘one size fits all’ approach to caring for someone living with dementia.
Consequently, it’s impossible for anyone except the person themselves to completely understand what their dementia ‘feels’ like, but despite this, there are some symptoms that can be more common than others in the early stages of dementia, such as confusion, memory loss and being unable to follow a conversation.
Physical Effects of Dementia
Different forms of dementia can bring different physical effects; for instance, with vascular dementia, physical symptoms may manifest as movement problems or difficulty walking, whereas with Lewy Body dementia someone may display tremors, become slower in their physical movements and experience repeated falls due to a lack of balance. As dementia progresses, some people also become more agitated which may manifest as ‘fidgeting’, pulling at their bedding or clothes, following another person around or constantly pacing up and down.
This can be distressing for both the person and their loved ones, however sometimes this can be a sign of the person wanting to communicate their feelings, or simply that they need something to occupy their hands to bring comfort to them. This is where a ‘fiddle’ blanket or muff can be reassuring and give the person something tactile to occupy them, rather than pulling at their clothes or even their skin. The Alzheimer’s Society have different ones available in their online shop.
Cognitive Effects of Dementia
Cognitive symptoms are often what will alert loved ones to changes in the person, such as “difficulty concentrating, finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, and struggling to find the right word” as well as the more familiar symptom of memory loss, according to the NHS website. Cognitive ability can be affected in a number of ways, which can have a great effect on the both the person and their loved ones or caregivers. One of these is difficulty with place and time, for instance meaning that a person may get agitated and try to leave the house at around three o’clock, because in their mind they are a young mum again who needs to collect their children from school.
The person can also struggle with decision-making and reasoning, and have difficulty with tasks such as shopping, due to not being able to recognise monetary values of coins or being able to make decisions about what to buy. While accompanying the person everywhere they go would seem a logical answer, that isn’t always possible, and if the person still lives with some independence, loved ones will be reluctant to restrict that. Tracking devices and apps are one answer but arranging for a carer to take the person shopping may also help, and because Helping Hands can provide visiting care from just 30 minutes per week, we will be able to devise a package of care that is totally suitable for what you or your loved one need.
Confusion is a common symptom in the early stages of dementia and might in fact be the first thing that you notice that is out of the ordinary. Confusion can manifest in several ways when someone is living with dementia, whether it’s because of affected memories making the person feel it’s another date and time, thinking someone who has passed away is still alive, or finding that previously familiar environments are now alien to them. Confusion is usually more common in Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body dementia and to a lesser extent, in vascular dementia. As the NHS tells us, “Symptoms of vascular dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease, although memory loss may not be as obvious in the early stages.”
How We Can Support Those with Dementia
The best way that anyone can support someone who is living with dementia is to try and see the world through their eyes as much as possible. Trying to see their surroundings as they see it can give loved ones and caregivers a real insight into why the person with dementia is exhibiting certain behaviours or anxieties. For instance, if they become agitated every time they’re led to the bathroom it’s not because they’re ‘being difficult’ or ‘acting out’, perhaps it’s something like going to the toilet has become uncomfortable and needs checking by a doctor or nurse. Or it could be that their visual perception has changed to the extent that the blue tiled floor looks like water and they’re concerned that they’re going to get wet, or worse.
There could be many reasons why someone is displaying certain symptoms though and if in doubt they should always be checked by a medical professional.
When the need for professional care becomes necessary further along someone’s dementia journey, remaining in your own home is a positive alternative to moving into residential care. This is because by remaining in familiar surroundings, with people, pets and possessions around you that help to reinforce memories, you will likely experience less anxiety and confusion and live a higher quality of life. Our amazing private carers will do everything they can to ensure that you live your very best life possible in the comfort and safety of your own home, and if you’d like to learn more about dementia care at home, you can call our customer care team seven days a week or contact us via our website.
Page reviewed by Deanna Lane, Senior Regional Clinical Lead on November 8, 2021