Dementia Awareness

This post is dedicated to the memory of my Mum, who died nine years ago this week, on 15th May 2008.

This Sunday was celebrated in many countries around the world as Mothers’ Day, although not here in the UK, as we mark the occasion on the fourth Sunday in Lent, which in effect means we do it in March. I’m rather grateful for this, as it would be too poignant a memory for me if we were celebrating around the time of Mum’s passing. It is also a poignant time of year for another reason, and so I’ve decided to rework and update a post I originally wrote in 2013.

Following closely on last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week – which I wrote about in Feeling Good? – is another aimed at raising awareness of a condition that affects many. From 14th to 20th May it is Dementia Awareness Week, which is run here in the UK by the Alzheimer’s Society. The theme for this year’s campaign is ‘Unite Against Dementia’ and as usual there will be activities and events across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Society’s hope is that people will be encouraged to take part and, by so doing, learn more about dementia, as the longer we all live the more of us will be affected by it – either ourselves or in a loved one. It is therefore important that we all know more about the condition, so that we can recognise the signs and will know how to cope if a loved one is diagnosed with dementia in any of its forms. In the Society’s words ‘The more we know about dementia, the more prepared we’ll be to face it.’

As you’ve probably guessed from the rather large clue in the dedication for this post, I have first hand experience of a loved one with dementia. Mum lived an independent life for many years but there came that awful time when we realised that she needed round the clock support, the kind that can only be given in a nursing home. The one we found was a good one and they looked after Mum very well, even when she was shouting that they were trying to murder her when they put her in the hoist to get her out of bed! But in her last year her decline from dementia was noticeable – she still recognised my sister and me when we visited her until the very late stages of her life, and could hold a perfectly sensible conversation for quite a while. But over time she became less able to converse, and the standard symptoms of memory loss began to show. She was taken into hospital as she wasn’t feeding well, and they told us that there was nothing they could really do for her. In effect, her dementia had affected her brain’s working so much that it wasn’t telling her body how to function – it had ‘forgotten’ how to eat and drink, so Mum had to be given this via a drip. Within a week of being discharged back to the nursing home she slipped peacefully away.

I’m telling you this partly, I suspect, because it helps me to set it down – especially this close to the anniversary – but because I know what the Alzheimer’s Society means when it talks about how the illness can affect others, not just the sufferer. It isn’t a preventable disease in the sense that medicine will stop it taking hold, but there are ways to live with it and enjoy a satisfying life. But you need to be ready, and you need to be aware. That’s why I’m supporting Dementia Awareness Week, and hope that you will too.

If you want to find out more, the Alzheimer’s Society’s dedicated page has all that you need to know about the week. Their site also has links to some very helpful literature for downloading – there is a wealth of useful information here, though you may have to search! They also tell you about the various ways you can get involved, either by organising or taking part in events or by uniting with someone against dementia and posting your picture on their wall.

As is my usual custom with my Dates To Note pieces if I’m giving you the link to the NHS website for more information. It is well worth a look if you want to find out more about this pernicious disease.

If you know someone you fear may be suffering but has not yet been diagnosed, this would be a good time to follow up on the advice I’ve linked you to. Only about 45% of sufferers are diagnosed and treated appropriately, and even though the Government has recognised the need to do more they have yet to demonstrate any real commitment to doing something about it. Maybe, once the dust has settled on our election, they will take some real, much needed action – but I’m not holding my breath.

Be aware. Get involved. Please.

World Mental Health Day 2013

The Mental Health Foundation's 2013 Event

The Mental Health Foundation’s 2013 Event – click to find out more

As is the custom this Thursday, the 10th October, is World Mental Health Day (WMHD), one of the annual dates considered sufficiently important to be supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).  Each year a particular theme is chosen for the day. Last year, this was Depression, which is in effect where this blog started with my post for that day. The theme chosen for this year is ‘Mental Health and Older Adults’ – OK, own up, who told them I’d just retired?

Realistically, this wasn’t chosen just for me! Information given by the WHO makes it abundantly clear why this selection is so important:

  • the global population is ageing rapidly, and by 2100 the number of people aged 60 and over is forecast to have tripled from the current level of 605 million to more than 2 billion, out of world total populations of around 7.1 billion now and a forecast 10.8 billion by 2100. This would represent an increase from 8.5% to 18.5% of the total;
  • approximately 20% of those aged 60 or over suffer from a mental or neurological disorder of some kind;
  • the most common mental health problems in this age group are dementia and depression;
  • mental health problems are under-identified by healthcare professionals and by older people themselves.

Putting all of this together it becomes immediately apparent that the usual clichés like ‘ticking time bomb’ and ‘disaster waiting to happen’ are hardly understatements! We are all getting older every day – a deep, philosophical insight there – and may well reach the point when we need care and support in our later years. Increasing awareness of these issues now is vitally important, as services worldwide struggle to cope with current levels of need against a backdrop of reductions in funding. We will all need to be more aware than we are now of how mental health problems can affect older people and be ready to do all that we can to help, whether this be by caring for family, friends or neighbours or by contributing time or money to charitable work in this field. To give you a personal view, my post earlier this year for Dementia Awareness Week shows in its own small way how this pervasive disease can affect those who love the sufferer. I know that I’m classified as being ‘vulnerable’: I have just retired, which is a major life change, I live alone and I am in recovery from a long spell of depression. But I’m not going to let this worry me, nor am I going to just sit here and wait to become ill. I am taking plenty of steps to ensure that I don’t yield to that vulnerability, and hope that you will do the same for yourself and your loved ones.

MHF logoThere are many organisations that provide help in this area, some of which are linked in my ‘Blogroll’ below left. A very good general site for all sorts of information is the Mental Health Foundation, whose main event this year is to encourage people to talk about mental health for older people – the Tea and Talk campaign.  The Foundation’s page on WMHD can be found here. Please do take some time to look at this, follow some of the links for further information, and see all sides of mental health issues for older people, both good and not so good. It could be you or someone close to you that needs help and understanding at some point.