We all know that things change as we and our loved ones grow older but for some, there is an added set of challenges that come with caring for a loved one whom you suspect may have early onset Dementia.
Many of you have asked us for advice about how to go about understanding and navigating those challenges. We’ve put together a simple, practical guide to help you, together with your family, carry out necessary steps when faced with the possibility of a complex, life changing condition.
Becoming Aware of Changes
It’s important to remember that there isn’t a definitive check list of symptoms to go on because there are many different types of Dementia that affects different people in many different ways. But your concern is most likely borne out of a number of changes you can’t readily explain. Changes such as:
Short term memory loss & confusion
Misplacing personal items
Difficulty or reluctance to carry out daily routine
Slower to grasp situations/concepts or difficulty reasoning/with language
We all get a bit more forgetful as the years pass and forgetting where you’ve left your keys a few times doesn’t mean you have Dementia. But if you’ve noticed forgetfulness in combination with having to be reminded to carry out personal hygiene habits, or struggling with normal everyday activities and changes in temperament such as mood swings, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and/or paranoia, you will want to take the next steps towards seeking medical intervention.
Seeing your Doctor
It’s not uncommon for people (of all ages) to be reluctant to visit a doctor but it’s crucial to not only reach a formal diagnosis but also rule out other possible causes. For example, confusion in older people can be indicative of a urinary tract infection (UTI) which is both temporary and treatable. Similarly, suffering from depression or stress may result in reluctance to carry out daily routine and social withdrawal so it’s important to pay your doctor a visit for a full check-up to pinpoint the problem.
Within the consultation, your doctor will request a urine sample and conduct a short questionnaire called a Mini Mental Test. It’s a universally accepted test that can be done right then and there in the doctors’ rooms to determine the possibility of Dementia using simple questions like counting backwards from one hundred in sevens or making up and writing a sentence.
Depending on the results of the test, your doctor may go on to order blood tests and/or detailed CAT scans as a follow up.
Support and Family
After seeking medical intervention, it may be confirmed that your loved one is, in fact, living with Dementia. At this point it’s absolutely critical that as a family, you establish a ‘communication forum’ as such to openly discuss practical and emotional issues that are best tackled together.
There may be questions such as who will become the primary care giver for your loved one and/or who will pay for care or manage finances? These conversations can be very difficult and fraught with challenges because of fear, anxiety, guilt or financial constraints or burden.
It is sometimes a good idea to enlist the help of someone experienced with these matters to facilitate talking about these sensitive issues.
Another important step to take is to seek out a local support group as an opportunity to learn and share with others. It’s always comforting to know that you are not alone in what you’re dealing with and that others are going through the same thing. It’s a powerful mechanism to help you cope as best as possible and get through the especially difficult days.
Keep your Loved One at the Centre of Care
All of the steps we’ve outlined are important but making sure that decisions about care, finances, living arrangements and medical treatment are inclusive and centred around your loved ones wants and needs. It’s important to remember that especially in the early stages of the disease, the person affected is usually very aware that something is wrong but they haven’t forfeited their independence or ability to choose.
It’s extremely difficult to hear everyone talking about you and deciding your whole life without even asking you how you feel or what you want to do. You have to make sure that your loved one is involved in directing the care plan and making decisions about practical matters like living wills and power of attorney, for their peace of mind and for yours.
The reality is that even dealing with changes associated to early onset Dementia can be complicated and challenging to deal with. That’s why support is so important because it has to be faced but it can’t all be solved at once. It needs to unfold in a gentle, ongoing process that can be supported by carers and other parties to help you navigate the change as best you can and as a family.
At the CareCompany we have experience with all aspects and stages of living with Dementia. If you need practical help or just a little advice, get in touch and let us be there for you and your family on this difficult journey.