There are over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this is only set to rise – by 2021 over a million people will have dementia, and by 2051 this will have reached more than 2 million. Many more will feel its impact by watching friends and family members live with the condition.
Dementia – which is the umbrella term for a collection of symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease – can have a huge impact on all those affected by it. Symptoms are usually mild to start with but get worse over time and eventually interfere with every aspect of daily life. The most common symptoms of dementia include struggling to remember recent events, forgetting names of people or everyday objects, difficulty in following the thread of a conversation and feeling confused in a familiar environment.
While some of the common symptoms are well known – particularly the general connection between dementia and memory loss – recent research by Alzheimer’s Society showed that many people are confused over what could be a sign of dementia and what is more likely to be general absent-mindedness. Many did recognise that repeatedly forgetting names of family members and everyday objects could be a sign of dementia (72%). But nearly two thirds (63%) also thought putting everyday objects in the wrong place (such as a mug of tea in the cupboard) could mean someone has dementia. Absent-minded mistakes are relatively common but when a person shows confusion around the order in which day to day tasks are carried out, such as the order in which you make a cup of tea, this could indicate a sign of dementia.
Interestingly, research by Alzheimer’s Society also found that 42% of people think that once a person with dementia stops recognising loved ones, they don’t benefit a lot from spending time with them – but this is mistaken. As the condition progresses, many people with dementia may find it difficult to recognise the faces of even their closest friends and family members, but they will still hold an ‘emotional memory’, which means they will still know how they ‘feel’ about them, and continue to feel happy and emotionally lifted long after spending time with them. Having face-to-face interaction with loved ones is crucial because it can stimulate feelings of familiarity, happiness, comfort and security. Staying connected and taking part in activities helps a person with dementia feel less isolated.
Veronica Devas, 71 and from Dorset cares for her husband Christopher, who lives with Alzheimer’s disease. Diagnosed with in July 2008, Christopher, a former businessman, mediator and later a magistrate, wants people to know that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Christopher says that when people with dementia feel confused and struggle with their symptoms, it’s important for them to be prepared to say to those around them, “I can’t remember, can you help me?”
Veronica says: “When we have lunch with friends, Christopher might not say much and be a bit unresponsive but he will always be in really good spirits afterwards and say how much he’s enjoyed it. It’s really important to both of us that we stay in touch with our close friends and family.”
Alzheimer’s Society is the leading research and support charity for people living with dementia. We believe that life doesn’t have to end when dementia begins. Providing information, advice and practical and emotional support for people affected by dementia, we run nearly 3,000 local services – from befriending services and dementia cafés to dementia support workers and the 24-hour online forum Talking Point. These services enable people affected by dementia to stay connected and feel part of their community.
Alzheimer’s Society launched a campaign in January 2016 which aimed to raise awareness about the feelings of isolation that people with dementia often feel in the New Year when Christmas festivities die down and life returns to normal. For more information about this and our other campaigns, go to www.alzheimers.org.uk. YouGov poll: Total sample size was 4249 adults in the initial survey, undertaken between 11th – 15th December 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
 YouGov poll: Total sample size was 4249 adults in the initial survey, undertaken between 11th – 15th December 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).