Life

Mind Matters: What if the symptoms I'm experiencing are dementia?

It's helpful if you are accompanied by a family member or close friend and that they take part in any assessments
Martin McCrory

HAVE you ever come out of a supermarket and forgotten where you've left your car or walked into a room and wondered "What did I come in here for?"

Momentary lapses in memory can be the source of some amusement but imagine if you became lost in an otherwise familiar place or didn't recognise your own home.

Perhaps you or a loved one are experiencing confusion about times and places, you find daily tasks a challenge, are subject to mood changes or are have difficulty in finding the right words to engage in a conversation.

It is normal for your memory to be affected by age, stress, tiredness, or certain illnesses and medications. This can be annoying if it happens occasionally but if it begins to affect your life, talk to your GP.

They will ask about your symptoms and general health and organise blood tests. They will give you some mental exercises to measure any problems with your memory or your ability to think clearly.

Dementia can be difficult to diagnose, especially if your symptoms are mild. If your GP is unsure, they will refer you to a specialist.

It's important to make good use of your consultation with the specialist. Write down questions you want to ask, make a note of any medical terms the doctor might use. Ask if you can come back if you think of any more questions. Taking the opportunity to go back can be very helpful.

It is estimated that there are 20,000 people living with dementia in Northern Ireland, although not all of these people will have received a formal diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis can be difficult, especially in the early stages. However, diagnosis rates across all five health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland are among the best in the UK.

There are many types of dementia and each type can impact differently on people's lives.

Doreen, a former nurse and founding member of Dementia NI, who lives with dementia, says that getting the diagnosis allows you to "plan your life".

"You begin to organise yourself and inform your family and get them involved," she says.

Having the right information and being able to plan for the future allows Doreen to have control. "I am still independent," she says. "And that is the way I want to stay for as long as I possibly can."

Being empowered to make informed choices about your future care and treatment is vital. Diagnosis helps deal with some of the uncertainty but also provides access to relevant support services.

There are memory services in each of the health and social care trusts in the north. In general the clinic is made up of a small team of professionals, including doctor, nurse, psychologist, social worker and occupational therapist.

Members of the team will provide a brief physical examination and talk to you about any changes in your ability to perform daily tasks, how you manage your financial affairs or cope in social situations. They will also want to ask you about the effects on your family members of your memory problem.

It would be very helpful if, on your visit to the clinic, you were accompanied by a family member or close friend and that they take part in the assessment. This will ensure that you have an opportunity to tell the professionals everything about yourself and help clarify anything that you might not understand or forget after you have left the clinic.

Although there is no cure for dementia, there are some medications available that may slow the process.

There is no certain way to prevent all types of dementia. However, a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk of developing a dementia when you are older. It can also prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and heart attacks.

:: Dementia Awareness Week runs from May 15-21 2016 – see alzheimers.org.uk for details. For information about dementia and where to find help go to www.nidirect.gov.uk/dementia.

:: Martin McCrory is a project officer with Dementia Together NI and the Health and Social Care Board.

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