If you are worried that someone may have dementia, you should talk to them about seeing their GP. The GP may ask more detailed questions, do a physical examination and request blood tests. This is important because there are several illnesses which may mimic the symptoms of dementia, but which can be treated, e.g. vitamin deficiencies, an under-active thyroid and depression.
If the GP suspects there is a problem with memory, they may refer you on to a specialist memory service for further investigation. Making a diagnosis of dementia will enable the person with dementia, their family and carers to access treatment, care and support.
Delirium is a combination of confusion and disorientation, often accompanied by paranoia and delusions and is treatable if identified. People with dementia may also experience delirium or depression as well.
This can sometimes make diagnosing dementia more difficult particularly in the early stages or when someone is unwell due to another illness or condition
Certain types of dementia are more likely in people diagnosed under the age of 65 or ‘early onset dementia’. The symptoms of dementia may be similar regardless of a person’s age, but younger people may have different needs, and require some different support.
In frontotemporal dementia, there is damage mainly to the front part of the brain (the ‘frontal lobe’) and the part of the brain responsible for memory (the ‘temporal lobe’). Damage to the front part of the brain may lead to changes in character and behaviour, e.g. behaving oddly or becoming disinhibited. People may also lose their ability to plan and organise things.
Although frontotemporal dementia is an uncommon type of dementia, it is a significant cause in those people who develop dementia at a younger age (i.e. under 65 years).
People with a learning disability are also at greater risk of developing dementia at a younger age – particularly those with down’s syndrome. The onset of the disease also tends to start much earlier with symptoms appearing from around 30 – 40 years of age. It may also be harder to diagnose at first and it is more likely that the dementia will progress more rapidly. The Annual Health Checks for older people with learning disabilities provided by GP practices should include screening for dementia.
Our understanding of dementia is improving as more research is done but we don’t yet have all the answers. Advancements in care mean improved medication is now available which can stabilise memory loss and other symptoms and can often slow the decline.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet and staying mentally, physically and socially active may all help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
A diagnosis of dementia is not in itself necessarily a reason to stop driving. What matters, from both legal and practical points of view, is being able to drive safely. However, in some cases doctors may advise ceasing driving as a precaution, at least until further assessments are carried out and reviewed (which can take several weeks). This medical advice should be followed.
To continue to drive it is necessary to fulfil certain legal requirements, including informing the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). It is also necessary to inform your car insurance company. Notification of a diagnosis should be sent with your full name, address, date of birth and the driver number on the driving licence to the Drivers Medical Group at the DVLA.
For more information contact:
Driver Medical Group Telephone: 0300 790 6806
DVLA Telephone: 0300 790 6801
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) Swansea, SA99 1TU
If you have been diagnosed with dementia and are unsure of your ability to continue driving, you can take a driving assessment. To do this, you will need to apply directly to one of the approved mobility centres, and pay a fee, currently between about £50 and £130.
For details of mobility centres that offer such an assessment visit www.mobility-centres.org.uk/find_a_centre/
If following its enquiries, the DVLA decides that you can continue to drive, they will issue a new driving licence that will be valid for a limited period. For a person with dementia, the licence duration is usually one year, although for very early dementia it may be longer, up to a maximum of three years. Your condition will be reviewed at least once a year.
...but are worried about them getting lost, what options are there?
Advice is available about a range of technology to help people stay safe both in the home and outside from door and bed sensors to movement detectors. One option that some people may choose is to use a Global Positioning System (GPS). This is a satellite navigation system that provides location and time information, which can help some people stay active and more independent for longer. A telecare version is available fitted into a special watch or other device like a key ring. Carers can get advice about how to use it online to see where the person is or they can ring someone from their local telecare support team who will find out for them.
Northumberland Telecare 01670 827 100
North Tyneside Care Call team. Tel 0191 200 6800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Although incontinence can be a distressing problem, it is a common one. There are a number of reasons why if you do have dementia you could become incontinent but it is not inevitable. A GP, community nurse, continence adviser or occupational therapist should be able to provide advice and suggest ways to make it easier to cope.
Life Stories is a way of gathering information to help people understand and know more about the person with dementia and their lives and interests. As their dementia progresses it can become much harder for the person to communicate things that they really like or dislike verbally. When people understand a person more fully it can help them to meet their needs better.
With the help of family, friends or staff it can be done quite simply by using photographs and writing important events in the person’s life down in an album or book. You might want to include information about their childhood, places they lived or worked, people and pets that were important to them. Some people may choose to do this on a computer and print a copy off. It can even be a short presentation to show others on a DVD or laptop. Some people choose to record lots of things in their life story, while others have a short summary and “10 things you need to know about me”. It can then be used by a range of people as a conversation point to encourage interaction and to know more about important things like routines. Click here for examples of life stories created for people living with dementia.
Dementia Friends is a Government programme lead by the Alzheimer’s Society that aims to make everyday life better for people with dementia by changing the way the nation thinks, talks and acts. The target is a million Dementia Friends in England by 2015. A Dementia Friend is an individual who has the confidence to help people with dementia feel understood and included in their community. They are someone who has been to a Dementia Friends’ training session and has pledged to take action within their local community.
A diagnosis of dementia does not mean you must stop working, although it is advisable to tell your employer. A disability employment officer at Jobcentre Plus can give advice. Adjusting working hours, reducing distractions from the working environment and using technology can help, or considering other alternative types of work may also be beneficial.