Q&A: Our parents are showing signs of dementia – what can we do?

Live-in care is a good option when someone has dementia / Photo: Shironosov (Getty/iStockphoto)

Live-in care is a good option when someone has dementia / Photo: Shironosov (Getty/iStockphoto) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Promotional feature: Live-in care agency Corinium Care answers some of your questions

An estimated 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and the numbers are predicted to rise to 1 million by 2021. When your relatives are affected, it’s difficult to know what to do for the best. Live-in care agency Corinium Care answers some of your questions.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe various brain disorders which have in common a loss of brain function which is progressive and eventually severe. There are more than 50 different types of the disease, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s Disease.

What are the symptoms?

The most common early sign of dementia is short-term memory loss, for example, not being able to remember what you ate for breakfast a few hours ago. People might find it difficult to recall recent events, follow conversations, understand what’s happening in a TV programme, or put a name to a familiar object. They might also begin to repeat themselves. Sometimes they’ll get lost in a familiar place, like the supermarket they’ve been shopping in for years. A person’s sense of logic and reason are profoundly affected. It’s important to remember that being forgetful doesn’t mean someone has dementia – forgetfulness is simply a part of growing older. But if you’re worried, a GP should be your first point of contact and he/she might refer you to a specialist for a variety of tests.

How quickly does it progress?

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Dementia is a life-limiting condition and its progress varies with each individual. It is not curable but can be treated with drugs which may delay the speed with which it takes hold. One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia.

Is it safe for people with dementia to stay in their own home?

Staying in one’s home for as long as possible can have benefits for people with dementia, especially if they live with a relative or a live-in carer to keep them in touch with their surroundings and reduce confusion. It means they can stick to the familiarity of age-old habits and don’t have to learn anything new.

Treasured possessions, a much-loved garden or a family pet can provide peace of mind and help someone with dementia to better manage their everyday environment.

A live-in carer who has benefited from dementia training will encourage your parents to do as much as they are able for as long as possible, keeping them safe, and reassuring them at every turn.

Is anger part of the disease?

The angry outbursts sometimes associated with dementia often result from frustration and confusion. Don’t take it personally. Because they lose the ability to use language and to think clearly, people with dementia might lose their temper more often than they used to. Avoid correcting their mistakes as this can lead to frustration and try not to set them up to fail by posing questions they can’t answer and setting tasks they can’t complete. It’s also important that they are kept safe but also given space if they have an angry outburst.

My mum is reluctant to wash and change her clothes. Is that normal?

Yes, it’s perfectly normal but there are plenty of ways to help families get around the issue. A lot can be done to make the bathroom a safer and less worrying place. Make sure your mother wears clothes which are easy to get on and off. Think about buying her two sets of the same clothes so that when one set is in the wash and ‘disappears’, she won’t get upset.

Can medication help?

Medication to help manage the effects of dementia are available, although they don’t work for everyone. It’s always worth exploring the possibilities with a GP or specialist.

Is there anything I can do to make life easier for my parents?

There are few basic rules of dealing with dementia which will always help. Don’t ask too many questions which your parents can’t answer. Listen to the meaning behind the words they use, rather than the words themselves. Remove negatives from your conversation and always focus on the positive. Don’t offer too many choices which can add to their confusion.

Am I alone in feeling guilty about my parents’ dementia?

You’re definitely not alone. It is very normal for relatives to feel helpless, stuck for what to do, guilty and angry. You might also feel a sense of bereavement because you have lost a person you knew and loved for many years. It’s hard to get to grips with the idea that you have to behave and speak to someone in a different way from the way you have done all your life. If you want to talk to someone who understands, you can call the National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 1122.

Corinium Care, based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, provides live-in care for frail and elderly people who can no longer manage alone but want to stay in their own home. All our carers receive dementia training.