Whenever you mention dementia, people often think of an older person losing their memory. But dementia is not a natural part of aging and memory loss might not be the first sign of dementia. Dementia is a devastating, progressive neurological condition which affects adults of all ages. Adults as young as in their 30’s and 40’s up to age 65 can experience Early Onset Dementia. Dementia slowly affects all functions of the mind and leads to a deterioration in the person’s ability to remember, reason and concentrate. It can affect every area of human thinking, feeling and behaviour. A person with dementia may experience sensory challenges to taste, sight, touch, hearing and smell, as well as memory.
Dementia is widely thought of as a memory disorder, but it is really more of a learning disorder. Old memories, old patterns, old habits remain until the dementia becomes too far advanced, but the person with dementia is no longer able to learn new information.
There are at least 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK; this is expected to rise to 1 million by 2021. There are more than 40,000 people in the UK with early onset dementia, which usually affects those aged between 30 and 65. There are many different types of dementia which will affect people differently. For instance, with PCA (posterior cortical atrophy), it is vision that is first affected, not memory. Symptomatic treatments which improve symptoms are currently available. However, disease modifying treatments to slow down the progression of the disease are not currently available. These are some hard facts about dementia. Dementia does not respect age, ethnicity, religion, gender, social or economic factors.
A third of people living with dementia do not feel part of their community. This is something that we are all capable of changing, by committing to making our communities dementia friendly. A dementia friendly community is made up of everyone in the community - shop assistants, public service workers, faith groups, businesses, police, fire and ambulance staff, bus drivers, school pupils & teachers, clubs and societies, residents and community leaders – you and me - people working together, helping people with dementia to remain a part of their community, ensuring that they do not become isolated from it.
This involves learning a little about dementia and doing very simple and practical things that can make an enormous difference to people living with dementia. Here are a few tips to help make your community more dementia friendly:
- Don’t be afraid to talk about dementia—the more open we are about dementia, the less stigma will be attached to it.
- Remember that dementia is not a natural part of aging. It affects adults of all ages.
- Remember that dementia doesn’t just affect memory. It also affects all aspects of cognition and presents sensory challenges to sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, and therefore perception of the world around us.
- Try not to make assumptions about what a person with dementia wants or needs, or what they are capable of doing—try to take the time to hear what they have to say.
- A Dementia Friendly Community is good for everyone, whether or not they have dementia.