Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia – what’s the difference and how can you help?
Nearly 50 million people are living with dementia worldwide, according to Alzheimers.org. World Alzheimer’s Month aims to spread awareness and bring people together to tackle this challenge.
Globally there is thought to be poor understanding and stigma surrounding the disease. For example, did you know that Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia, which is why the terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re not actually the same? This is why World Alzheimer’s Month is vital in supporting those suffering from the condition and lobbying the government for better help, care and public education.
Dementia is not a specific disease but rather an umbrella term that describes a wide range of symptoms. Many different types of dementia exist. The exact cause is not yet fully understood, although a number of things are thought to increase your risk of developing the condition.
Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. While dementia is a general term, Alzheimer’s Disease is a specific brain disease. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s symptoms get worse over time. It first affects the part of the brain associated with learning, so early symptoms often include changes in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe and include confusion, changes in behaviour and other challenges.
Though it’s a horrible thing to have to go through, there are definitely ways you can help someone living with dementia:
If you want to help anyone with anything, this is the first step to take. Show interest, make time and really truly listen. Listening will allow you to begin to understand the persons experience, not to mention will help them feel validated and heard. Listening is so incredibly important and so make sure this is your first priority.
When communicating with someone with dementia it’s important to be clear. This doesn’t mean treating them like children or patronising them in any way, but simply that you must be clear and kind. Avoid talking in abstracts, be as direct as you can while being kind and be ready and willing to repeat yourself or rephrase what you said in another way if asked.
Give them time to think and process
In a similar vein, patience is essential. Make sure you give the person as much time to think and process as they need. Don’t feel the need to fill silence straight away and allow for momentary delays in responses. It’s also helpful to give the person some gentle prompts to assure them you understand what they’re saying, or it’s okay if they need some time to formulate a response. Just try not to jump in too quickly.
Help adapt their environment
The more familiar you can make their environment the better. You want them to feel comfortable and safe in the space they’re in.
Creating labels and signs can also help when it comes to navigating the environment. Think about ways you can make tech simpler, for example. Perhaps voice control or drawing attention to important buttons.
At Birchwood House, we work really hard to ensure our care home feels familiar, warm and comfortable to each and every one of our residents. You can find lots of information on our blog about your care options, including residential care homes. We wrote a post explaining how to find the right care home for your loved one that may be helpful.
Be patient and don’t argue if they are experiencing a different reality
Confusion is very normal for someone with dementia and so it’s very important you are patient with anyone who may be experiencing a different reality, getting confused or is forgetting things. Always speak with kindness and never argue with the person about their experience.
It can be incredibly upsetting to see a loved one forget and be confused. It’s normal to feel a huge range of emotions. The important thing to remember is that the person is likely just as upset and frightened and whatever is happening is not necessarily something they can control. Be as empathetic and supportive as possible.
Remember that everyone is different
Everyone experiences dementia differently. It’s important to bear this in mind. The situation can change regularly and there will be ups and downs. Try to remain flexible and remember that listening is one of the most meaningful things you can do.