Written by Tania Taylor
Dementia is rapidly becoming the biggest killer in the world, with one person diagnosed worldwide every 3 seconds, and more than 1 in 3 people over the age of 80 will die with dementia. In the UK, there are currently 850,000 people living with dementia, and this figure is set to rise to one million by 2020.
How can we help?
We can start by learning the difference between the myths and the facts.
People with dementia are sufferers.
Some people living with dementia do feel that they suffer, and some people who support their family member or friend who is living with dementia may describe the person as ‘suffering’. However, ongoing research carried out by the Alzheimer’s Society recognises that people living with dementia, do not want to be disempowered by words or phrases such as “Dementia sufferer” or “patient” or “senile”. These are often outdated misconceptions that can leave people affected by dementia feeling isolated and disengaged from society. They are also terms that encourage society to disengage from people with dementia. They are words that make assumptions that anyone with the illness is no longer a person in their own right.
Alzheimer’s is worse than dementia.
Alzheimer’s is one form of dementia. There are over 100 different types of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease is the most commonly diagnosed type. There are three other types that are more common than most; Vascular Dementia, Frontal Temporal Dementia, and Lewy Body Dementia. Each type damages the brain in different ways, causing a variety of symptoms. The term Dementia is an umbrella term, used in relation to ALL types of dementia.
People with dementia have poor mental health.
Anyone can be diagnosed with dementia, regardless of their mental health. Dementia is also not classed as a mental health condition any more (although it used to be many years ago). Dementia is as physical as heart disease, stroke, or cancer. It costs the UK more money in care and support than all three of those illnesses combined. Dementia is caused by physical damage inside the brain. The physical damage occurs in different ways according to what type of dementia a person has.
People with dementia are always old.
There are currently more than 17,000 younger people living with dementia in the UK. The most common forms of dementia found in people under the age of 65 is Alzheimer’s Disease and Frontal Temporal Dementia. Some types of dementia do run in families, although this is fairly uncommon, it is more likely to run in a family if the person is diagnosed before the age of 65.
People with dementia can’t remember anything.
People living with dementia often have difficulty recalling recent events or memories. This is because of damage to the hippocampus and amygdala. However, not all people with a diagnosis of dementia will experience these symptoms right away. People with Frontal Temporal Dementia are more likely to experience a change in their behaviours prior to any damage occurring that causes problems with memory recall. Even when people do have symptoms relating to their ability to recall memories that are recent, a memory from the past is often quite easy to recall.
People with dementia can’t drive.
Dementia has a beginning, and a middle, before it reaches the end. This is one of the reasons the language we use surrounding dementia is so important. There is such a big misconception that dementia is someone at the end of life. I have known many people who have lived ‘well’ for years with a diagnosis of dementia. I have known people with a diagnosis of dementia who can and are able to drive. A diagnosis of dementia does not mean a person suddenly changes into a stigmatised object created by disempowering language in Society. When someone is diagnosed with dementia, if it is safe for them to do so, they can continue to drive.
Many years ago, people living with dementia were more commonly diagnosed after many years of living with the illness. However, as we continue to reduce the stigma and raise awareness of the ability to live well after a diagnosis, it is becoming more common for people to receive a diagnosis much earlier. It is important to note that the number of years since a diagnosis, is not the number of years since the dementia began.
People with dementia can’t live alone or go out alone.
People living with dementia are absolutely able to live and go out alone. We also have a wealth of technology at our fingertips now that means people with dementia can stay at home, living well, for longer than ever before. Many people living with dementia may find that as time progresses and their illness worsens, they may find living and going out alone more difficult. This does not mean that as soon as a person receives a diagnosis, they suddenly have to stop doing all of the things that person enjoys.
Everyone with dementia has the same symptoms.
Even if you had two identical twins diagnosed with the same type of dementia on the same day, their journey with dementia will be very different. Why?
The symptoms of dementia vary depending on where in the brain damage occurs.
The symptoms affecting memory, affect the individual persons’ memories, and no two people have a life time of identical memories, even when two people experience the same event, their perception and recall of that event are different.
The progression of dementia can be affected by other health conditions eg stroke, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure etc.
The symptoms can affect a person’s personality depending on which part of the brain is damaged, and no two people have the same personality.
Once you have met one person with dementia, you have met ONE person with dementia.
How can Hypnotherapy help?
For many people after receiving a diagnosis of dementia, both the person diagnosed, and their supporter can experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, periods of low mood, disruptions to sleep, and feelings of frustration. These are all areas we work with in people who have not been affected by dementia.
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy works with a person to support them in identifying coping mechanisms that will work for them. Sessions can be delivered 1:1, with couples e.g. husband and wife, mother and daughter. Sessions can also be delivered for relaxation purposes in a group setting, for example a residential home, or a day support service.
A person with dementia should be treated as we would treat any other client, but there are some areas we may give more consideration to. For example, a client with dementia may have a delayed ability to respond during a conversation, and so we must provide extra moments of silence to enable a person to respond. We never assume that we think we know what a person is about to say. We also need to consider our environment, is it dementia friendly? There are lots of low cost or free changes we can make to our sessions and our knowledge, to ensure that when we deliver a service to a person affected by dementia, we can do it well.
Working with people affected by dementia is one of my most rewarding types of work. Why? Because when you are given a diagnosis of a terminal illness it can be devastating, especially when you are aware of the stigma and negative, disempowering portrayals in society. Being able to discover ways of coping that work the very best for you, and your supporter, is life changing, and can improve quality of life. Knowing I have helped to make a positive difference to a person’s final years of life, well, there is nothing more rewarding than that.
Do you want to learn more?
I deliver Continual Professional Development courses specifically around working with people who are living with a diagnosis of dementia and their supporters. I believe more people with a diagnosis of dementia and those who support them, should have Solution Focused Hypnotherapy as an accessible, meaningful, service to support them to continue to live well for as long as possible. I am also passionate about raising awareness about dementia, what it is, what it isn’t, and what valuable resources we can access to help us learn more.
If you would like information about the courses I deliver you can email me and/or visit my website.
If you are living with dementia, or are supporting someone who is living with dementia, and want to discuss whether Solution Focused Hypnotherapy would suit your needs, please get in touch by calling me on 07442 169 033 or emailing me. More information can also be found on my website.
All facts and figures have been taken from www.Alzheimers.org.
Solution Focused Psychotherapist & Hypnotherapist in Milnrow village centre, Rochdale.
Lecturer at the Clinical Hypnotherapy School.