Ten things a person with dementia would like you to know…

Dementia doesn’t just affect memory or a person’s ability to recall recent events or conversations. It can also affect their moods, sense of humour and outlook on life. But regular conversations and social contact can still make a difference.

Regular conversations and social interaction are both very important…
It doesn’t matter if the person with dementia isn’t as articulate as they used to be, they will still benefit from having a conversation and the reassurance of knowing that they have someone to talk to. Even if they don’t remember the conversation later on, regular interaction with different people will still make a difference. While peace and quiet may also be important from time to time, simply putting a person with dementia alone in front of the TV too often is not ideal. Regular social contact is not only important for improving mood could also help to slow down progression of the disease.

KeithOliverDementia is about much more than losing your memory…
Dementia can affect many aspects of someone’s quality of life and isn’t just about struggling to remember things – it can cause mood changes, affect a person’s judgement and personality (they can become confused, suspicious or angry for instance) and can also result in increased falls as a person becomes less able to judge widths and distances. Retired headteacher Keith Oliver, who has Alzheimer’s disease, says: ‘Please understand that dementia isn’t just about memory loss. It’s a much more complex disease than that and it has a great impact upon the person and those close to them.’

Following storylines can be very challenging for a person with dementia…
For most of us, it can be relaxing to read a good book or watch a film. For a person with dementia, it can be frustrating as it is often a challenge to follow or remember a storyline. Keith Oliver says: ‘I’m reading a book at the moment and I can’t remember it but I’m determined to get to the end because that’s the challenge – the challenge is to finish this book and enjoy it.’

Being involved in social activities can make a real difference…
Going out, meeting others, getting involved in local activities or community events can make a big difference to the wellbeing of the person with dementia, especially if they are usually quite sociable. Having someone to go out with can really help. ‘When I go to events, either my wife will come with me or a supporter will come with me,’ says Keith. ‘This gives me support, friendship and laughter at times.’

Things can seem more black and white when you have dementia…
You might have a dry sense of humour and be used to cracking subtle jokes, or you might have shared a similar sense of humour with a person with dementia. But they may lose their ability to see things the same way. ‘Sense of humour is not as good,’ says Keith. ‘I’ve lost the ability for nuances and subtleties which at times can cause some grief because my wife will say something to me in humour and I don’t see the joke at all and take it very literally. You see things in monochrome, you don’t see the richness of things.’

Dementia can affect moods and energy levels…
A person with dementia is having to work harder than the average person to get things done or process information. This can be not only hugely frustrating but also mentally and physically very draining. ‘Dementia does affect your mood and it makes you more tired as well,’ says Keith. ‘You are pre-rehearsing stuff and you are having to work harder to get to the same place you would have got to quite easily before, so inevitably that affects your mood as well. Frustration is hard. I do get frustrated and frustration in some people leads to anger.’

A person with dementia will detect your moods…
If you are feeling low, tired or frustrated they will pick up on how you are feeling, regardless of what you say or how polite you are. I witnessed this once with my mother whom, in the mid-stages of vascular dementia, once said to me: ‘I get the impression you don’t like me very much’. This wasn’t true, but we’d had a particularly difficult phase where I felt very tired and was struggling to cope with caring for her. Although I hadn’t been verbally rude, she had picked up on my frustration (and sadly had wrongly assumed it was directed at her rather than being caused by the stress of being a carer).

Regular exercise can make a positive difference…
There is an increasing amount of research to say that exercise can help a person with dementia, both in terms of mood and also slowing down the progression of the disease. Plus it’s mentally stimulating and uplifting to be outside in the fresh air. ‘I walk most days and I’ve lost a bit of weight as well,’ says Keith Oliver.

Everyone is different…
Although we associate memory loss, confusion and disorientation with dementia, it’s also important to understand that every person with dementia is different. As such, everyone should be treated as an individual and not be put into the same bracket. ‘Everybody is unique,’ says Keith. ‘Don’t view everybody in the same way. My mother had Alzheimer’s but her situation was very different from mine.’

Dementia doesn’t just affect the elderly…
Although it is more common in older people, there are over 40,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 with dementia. ‘It does affect an increasingly large number of people in the age group below 65,’ says Keith. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in younger people.