Dementia is usually associated with old age, but onset can be from early middle age. In the UK, some 10% of individuals aged 70 and over, and 20% of people aged 80 and above, are living with dementia. It’s a condition that is experienced all over the world: globally, over 35 million people have dementia, and 4.6 million new cases are diagnosed every year.
Thanks to advances in medicine, it is becoming easier for doctors to diagnose dementia in its early stages. Whether this dementia takes the form of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia or any other type of dementia, it’s always better for the individual that it be diagnosed as early as possible.
Understandably, receiving a diagnosis of dementia – at any time – can be distressing for the individual and their family. However, receiving an early diagnosis of dementia, as opposed to a later diagnosis, is a positive thing because it enables a programme of care to be established that can enhance an individual’s overall wellbeing.
A time for support
Individuals who are living with the early stages of dementia require lots of support from their loved ones. Their symptoms may not be very pronounced in the early stages of the condition, but may include short-term memory failure, communication problems, a lack of orientation, a loss of intellectual capacity, and changes in personality.
A person in the early stages of dementia has the insight to understand what is happening to them, and therefore faces the challenge of coming to terms with their diagnosis and their future. If your loved one has received a diagnosis, then this is a time to give them your love, care and attention – they will really benefit from it.
An advantage of receiving an early diagnosis of dementia is that it gives the family a vital opportunity to discuss and plan for the future together. It offers the individual with dementia the chance to tell their family how they are feeling and how they wish to be cared for in the future. The person with early symptoms of dementia may at first reject the suggestion of care and may want to carry on without assistance. If possible, friends and family should try to encourage the individual to come to terms with their condition and become actively involved in planning their programme of care so that it can be put into action when the time comes. This is especially important in light of strong evidence that the progression of the symptoms can actually be slowed down with an early diagnosis and a good quality programme of care and specialist medical help.
One-to-one care: the best choice
One-to-one care is likely to be the most successful care option, especially if it takes place in the comfortable environment of the individual’s own home. It’s also important for there to be long-term consistency in who provides this care.
The person with dementia may find the idea of appropriate support at home much more acceptable than moving into residential care. Maintaining independence for as long as possible, and continuing to socialise with friends and family in familiar surroundings, both give a person with dementia the best quality of life. With the right support, many people with dementia can remain in their own homes for as long as possible.