This week, I have been reading a lot about dementia, including what causes dementia, what it is like living with dementia, and what technologies are available to help people with dementia to live well at home.
I also attended an Alzheimer's Society Dementia Friends session. It was an informal session delivered by a Dementia Champion, someone who has been trained to deliver these sessions. As our Champion said, she is not a teacher, per se. Rather, she is someone who has been affected by dementia and has an interest in communicating the key messages the Alzheimer's Society wish to emphasise.
These five key messages are about helping people to understand dementia, so I have based this post on them, using them for the numbered headings below.
1. Dementia is Not a Natural Part of Ageing
As we get older, we all start to slow down and lose the skills we once had. Dementia, however, is not inevitable and should not be thought of as something everyone will experience. Being aware of the risk and protective factors can help prevent dementia, and knowing what to look out for can lead to an early diagnosis.
2. Dementia is Caused by Diseases of the Brain
People often used dementia and Alzheimer's interchangeably, but dementia is a more general term for the symptoms experienced due to diseases of the brain. Alzheimer's Disease is the most common cause of dementia, but there are others, including:
- vascular dementia, caused by lack of oxygen to the brain, for example, after a stroke;
- mixed dementia, when someone has two or more diseases of the brain. Vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease is a common combination;
- dementia with Lewy bodies; and
- frontotemporal dementia.
These are many other, rarer causes of dementia, too. Find out more about these here.
3. Dementia Can Affect Thinking, Communicating and Doing Everyday Tasks
The symptoms experienced will differ depending on the type of dementia a person has, but it is not just memory that is lost. In the early stages, different diseases will produce different symptoms. In later stages, symptoms tend to be similar, since more of the brain becomes affected.
4. It is Possible to Live Well With Dementia
Although people with dementia do need some support from others, a lot of daily living can be supported using assistive technologies and understanding of their needs.
For my project, I will be supporting people to complete tasks that have multiple steps, like making a cup of tea. The aim is to allow people to continue doing things they want to do independently at home.
5. There is More to a Person than the Dementia
A phrase I have heard a lot is, if you have met one person with dementia, you have only met one person with dementia. The point is that each person living with dementia experiences this in their own way, because of who they are.
The way others react to someone with dementia can have a profound effect on how that person feels. So, by understanding these five key messages, hopefully we will become a more dementia-friendly society that is able to support people to live well with dementia.
Be a Dementia Friend!
Although I have shared the key messages of the Dementia Friend session, it would be great to attend one yourself and share your knowledge with friends. You can find out more about becoming a Dementia Friend by visiting the Dementia Friends website. If you sign up and attend a local information session, you can get your Dementia Friend badge, too. I am wearing mine with pride!
Meeting People With Dementia
I am hoping to go along to some dementia cafés in the coming weeks to volunteer and meet people living with dementia and their carers. I would like to get to know them better and understand how the technologies I will be developing should function in order to meet their needs.
An important aspect is how to make these technologies adaptable for different individuals, since everyone has different experiences and needs, but also inclusive enough to support anyone living with dementia. This is an exciting challenge I look forward to tackling over the coming months.