Dementia Awareness Week

Last week I watched "Iron Lady" for the first time. Having not read any reviews or heard anyone talking about the film, the film about our former prime minister caught me by surprise.

For anyone who has not seen the film, it is a reflection on the life of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. I guess I had expected the usual what-it-was-like from the inside as our first female prime minister led us through the Falkland's war, Miner's Strike and the fall of the Eastern Block. What I had not expected was that as much of the film dealt with her living with early dementia as it did with these great events.

Love her or hate her, it was quite shocking to see someone who had once had a major impact on the shape of British and world events forgetting the names of those around her amd having conversations with a hallucination of her late husband. 

Somehow, I really did not want to think that someone as powerful as she once was, being so affected in such a way. I guess it made me think of my own future could that be me in a few years time?

The Alzheimer's Society published the results of a survey showing that 44 out of every 100 people know someone with dementia. It is estimated that 820 000 people have dementia.

Dementia is more than just memory problems. Whilst forgetting recent events, getting names and messages muddled up and getting lost whilst out and about are common problems, it also affects people's ability to communicate; even reading and writing are affected. As the disease progresses, managing around the home and every day tasks such as dressing become difficult. There are medicines that can help slow the progression of the disease in some people and additional support is available.

But dementia affects more than the person - it affects the whole family. Carers of people with dementia can find it a struggle to cope with the effects of dementia on their other relationships, on family finances and on their own health. At times carers feel very isolated and looking after someone with dementia can be very stressful. 

I spent many very happy days with my grandfather in the garden. I can recall the gardener's year very clearly: the planting of potatoes in early spring, cutting the grass through summer with a hand mower, fighting the birds for the early autumn raspberries and digging up leeks in 1 foot of snow ("can't dig the leeks until had a good frost"). That's how I choose to remember him. But I can also recall the toll it took on my grandma as he developed dementia and she insisted on caring for the man she had spent decades with, despite the effect it had on her own health.

This year, the focus of Dementia Awareness week is on the hard working but often apparently, unappreciated carers that look after sufferers of dementia, day in and day out. 

At Glenpark, we fully recognise the importance of the work that all carers do, not just those looking after patients with dementia. Carers offer a great deal of insight and knowledge of their loved one that are invaluable to us in our own work. We also fully realise that part of our job is to support and care for the carers, so if we 'hassle' you, as a carer, to attend for a smear or medication review (or whatever) it is because we are thinking about your long term health.

There are also lots of organisations for carers out there as well (have a look at our Service Finder page - we will continue to add organisations as we come across them).

And, if you can suggest any things that we can do support carers better, please do let us know.