Dementia

Dementia is an illness that affects the brain, making it harder to remember things or think as clearly as before. Dementia can affect every area of human thinking, feeling and behaviour, but each person with dementia is different - how the illness affects someone depends on which area of their brain is damaged. 

There are different kinds of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia

In Alzheimer’s disease brain cells deteriorate through the build-up of a protein; vascular dementia is caused by problems in the supply of blood to brain cells. Many cases of dementia are caused by a mix of vascular damage and Alzheimer’s disease. Lewy body dementia is the next most frequently occurring illness, with fronto-temporal dementia then more commonly occurring in younger people.

Dementia is a common condition and there are around 90,000* people living with dementia in Scotland (*Alzheimer Scotland estimate for 2017). The older you are, the more chance there is of you getting dementia. When dementia occurs under the age of 65 years it is commonly referred to as Young Onset Dementia.

Worried about your memory

Sometimes people are afraid that forgetfulness is the start of something else, like dementia. This can worry older people especially. People who have had a relative with dementia may also be particularly anxious about memory problems. Your memory may be nothing to worry about, as forgetfulness can be caused by a number of things such as chest or urinary infections, depression and the side effects of some medication. However, it is also important to seek help if you think you or someone you know may have dementia.

The booklet Worried About Your Memory and the leaflet Feeling Well will help you decide if you should visit your doctor. 

The Alzheimer Society also have useful information here.  If you have concerns then you should phone your GP surgery to make an appointment. People with symptoms of dementia will receive a number of tests, which will be carried out by your GP, specialists and/or a Psychiatrist.

If you are diagnosed with dementia, your future health and care needs should be assessed and a care plan developed with you. It is important to remember that this is your care plan and should be used to find out what is important for you and what helps to keep you well and active. You should ask as many questions as you want and make sure that your wishes are known.

For more information about different ways in which dementia affects a person, you can look at Alzheimer Scotland’s leaflet 5 things you should know about dementia. This leaflet provides an overview of how dementia is caused as well as what options are available to support you or a relative to live well with dementia.

Many people live active and fulfilling lives with dementia, and more information from the Scottish Dementia Working Group can be found here. 

If you receive a diagnosis of dementia you will be supported by a dementia link worker for at least a year to help you. This is called post-diagnosis support.

The Scottish Government have introduced a Five Pillars Model for post-diagnostic support which includes:-

  1. Understanding the illness and managing symptoms
  2. Planning for future and decision making
  3. Supporting community connections
  4. Peer support
  5. Planning for future care

Your dementia link worker will work with you, your carers and/or family to help provide practical and emotional support following a diagnosis of dementia and help to link you into the services you may need and help plan for the future. Everyone experiences dementia differently and your link worker will provide person-centred support that suits your own individual needs.

Above video (c) Healthcare Improvement Scotland 2016.  You can copy or reproduce this video for use within NHSScotland and for non- commercial educational purposes. Use of this video for commercial purposes is permitted only with the written permission of HIS.

Living well with dementia

Living a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, including people with dementia, and is the best way to continue to live well with dementia. Eating well and exercising are important for everyone. When you visit your GP, you should ask for advice on self-care; this should also be included in your care plan.

Keeping in contact with friends and family is important. It is also good to keep doing the things we enjoy and which make us unique individuals, whether gardening, walking or watching the football. With a little bit of support or adaptation, people with dementia should continue to enjoy their hobbies and interests.

You can live a good life with dementia - putting your affairs in order early on, and keeping well and as active as you can will help you live independently for as long as possible.  If you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it - from family and friends, professionals like doctors, nurses, and social workers, and organisations like your local council or Alzheimer Scotland.

As your needs change and when you require more help, additional support can be provided through services such as your local Social Work office or Older Adults Mental Health Team (see Find out more). Services such as home care, respite, community psychiatric nurses or occupational therapists will work with you to keep you as independent as possible.

Alzheimer Scotland's Living with dementia webpage has further information and resources.

Symptoms of dementia

There are varying symptoms across the different types of dementia; however, you should look out for declining ability in:

  • Thinking
  • Memory
  • Understanding
  • Judgement
  • Behaviour
  • Language.

The symptoms of dementia often develop slowly over time and can cause increased difficulty in doing everyday activities such as cooking, shopping or handling money. Each person living with dementia is unique and will experience the illness in their own way. Different types of dementia tend to affect people differently, especially in the early stages. Dementia can also affect how we feel about things. This includes changes in mood, becoming become anxious and withdrawn, frustrated or irritable, easily upset or unusually sad.

Looking after someone with...Dementia

If someone you know is becoming increasingly forgetful or showing symptoms of dementia, you should encourage them to see their GP to talk about the early signs of dementia. If you, or a family member, has dementia, you may find it difficult to stay positive. Remember that you are not alone, and that help and support is available from local carers' services. Support can include:

  • Income maximization
  • Emotional support
  • Short breaks
  • Advocacy
  • Training
  • Information and advice
  • Peer support
  • Health checks for carers.

Dementia link workers will work with you and the person you are caring for together.

The video below tells you more about the types of help that are available.

The It's Ok to Ask DVD was produced by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Glasgow City Council, The Alliance and Alzheimer Scotland in 2014.

Further information for carers is available on our Looking After Someone page and from the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde carers site

Going into Hospital with dementia

People with dementia may find themselves admitted to hospital. If you are coming into hospital there are a few things you can do to make your admission and stay easier, this video may help.  

A useful document called Getting to Know Me has been developed by Alzheimer Scotland's network of Dementia Nurse Consultants and the Scottish Government.  It aims to give hospital staff a better understanding of patients with dementia who are admitted either for planned treatment, such as an operation or in an emergency.

The document should be filled in by the person with dementia as much as possible, or by a family carer or relative, with the help of hospital staff if necessary. It is then held with the person's notes so it is readily accessible to all staff working with that individual.

It asks for brief information about the person: their likes and dislikes, their background, what they like to be called, the important people or places in the person's life, what helps them relax, how they take their medication, their normal routines, if they wear glasses or a hearing aid, what they like to do for themselves and what they need help with.  There is also space for the carer to add in the relevant information they think the staff should know to help them provide the best care possible and to understand any behavioural issues the person might have.

Further information and support

There are different types of dementia.

It is important to organise your legal and financial affairs by applying for a Power of Attorney.

The following local Health and Social Care partnership (HSCP) sites have specific information on dementia help