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Relationships - May 2017

Dementia


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


Dementia

Last weekend my two very best friends and I spent treasured times together. We have known each other for 40 years, since our children were tiny, and although we now live 200 miles apart, we make an effort to meet regularly throughout the year.

tourist photoThis time they came to me in Gloucestershire, from Chichester and Norwich. We talk, reminisce, cook, eat, drink and laugh - a lot. It is a joyous time and we bask in the comfort of knowing that so much of our past, be it happy or painful, is shared.

This visit was spent planting a rose bed in my front garden. That was made all the more enjoyable by a large group of delightful Chinese tourists who stopped to admire my wisteria and ended up taking photographs of everything and everyone. We vowed to remember this time for years!


One of my friends has a sister with dementia who can no longer enjoy the company of good friends, although she does, fortunately, remember who her sister is when she visits.

As we walked my dog we talked about the apparent prevalence of dementia. We each could easily bring to mind four or five people we know who have a diagnosis and are living with it.

I first learned of the effects of dementia some 40 years ago through the slow decline of my favourite aunt. My mother was so upset to see her 'little sister' doing things which seemed strange and out of character. Aunty D. would feed her beloved spaniel whatever she ate. The poor creature would be given chocolate, cake, biscuits, meat pie, stew, toast, marmalade – whatever it was, he’d eat it. He grew horribly obese but, as he and Aunty were inseparable, no-one dared remove him, and he didn't live long.

Auntie D. also allowed anyone into her house – charity collectors seeking donations, salesmen offering insurance or double glazing, and so on. Fortunately, several of Auntie’s family lived nearby and could keep a discreet eye on her post and her bank account, untangling 'contracts' as they went.
Everyone who knew Auntie D loved her and gently looked after her for the rest of her life.

But not everyone is that fortunate. Many people have no family nearby who can visit or can ensure a vulnerable relative is not being exploited or mistreated.

Sadly, that does sometime happen even in the privacy of the home. I was told of one person who would say "I fell over" when asked about odd bruises. It turned out that her husband, at the end of his tolerance, had been forcing her to eat, to stay seated, not to wander around at night, and so on. That couple needed far more support than they were getting. This was indeed available but as, physically, the wife seemed well and strong, no-one could persuade her husband that he needed help to manage his wife’s steadily increasing mental disability.

One of my friends described a recent dinner when the youngest of her guests had been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Although he could keep abreast of the conversation around the table, he didn't return when he went to the loo. Until his wife went to find him, he stood quietly in the hall listening to everyone's voices but couldn’t find his way back to the table. How cruelly dementia can suddenly disable, even younger people. Having often visited the house before, he easily found the loo itself but had a total blank once he came out.

(There are more than 42,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK with dementia. www.alzheimers.org.uk)

My friends and I talked a lot about the fear that dementia engenders and how hard it is for family and friends to know how best to support the sufferer. But there’s much advice now at our fingertips on the internet - it is always there, whenever we have time to look it up. There are helplines and support groups too. We need to use every kind of help we can to enable our dementia patient/loved person to have, whenever possible, a comfortable time free of anxiety and depression. We need to know such helpful hints as:

  • Do not ask direct questions - it is disturbing for them if they don't know the answer.
  • Describe your own memories of them and just tell them what you have been doing or what’s happening in the news. That can give them a chance to access a memory or two of their own.
  • Try to remember that they are not being intentionally vague; it is not their fault so we must not shout or physically push them to do something.
  • Label in large print everything they might need to use in their kitchen and bathroom.
  • Keep control of the more harmful medications so that they are taken only in the right quantities at the right times.
  • Make sure that gas cookers and hobs are turned off after use and, when the need eventually arises, replaced with a microwave or perhaps a mobile meal service.
  • Find time to take a breather and not beat ourselves up for grinding our teeth because we lose patience occasionally. Caring can be exhausting.

 

If you have a friend or relative who you think might have dementia of some kind, talk to other people who know them to see if they are worried too - often the person will have mentioned their failing memory or gaps in their understanding to someone before it becomes obvious. If you are close to the person concerned, go to their doctor with them and, if they are happy for you to do so, sit in on the consultation to help them.

If you are worried about yourself, try not to be anxious - plenty of support is available. Talk to your doctor and your family members and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Memory loss as we age is normal. But if you are concerned the sooner it is mentioned to a doctor the sooner help and support can be given. Although it cannot be reversed, medication can help slow the progress of dementia.

Look at the websites that have information to guide you:

www.alzheimers.org.uk
www.ageuk.org.uk
www.dementia.com
www.alzheimersresearchuk.org



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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