Of marbles lost and faculties retained… dispelling dementia myths

An older and younger man talkingMost people’s perceptions of dementia are excessively negative.  Many of the signs of dementia are misunderstood and made worse by a lack of reasonable adjustments by carers and others who understand the condition poorly.

What do you think of when you hear the term “dementia”?  A curse that strikes in old age to steal memories from all those who outlive their usefulness?  Angry, volatile and confused elderly people fighting their carers at shop entrances?  Perhaps something else entirely, but it is unlikely the term conjures up a happy or welcome picture.  The popular perception of dementia overshadows the often much happier reality.  Many people with dementia can and do go on to live well with only minor adjustments and a little understanding from those around them.

Click on the Read more link below and learn to dispel some of the myths surrounding dementia.

Five key messages about dementia

  1. Dementia is not a natural part of ageing.  All those that grow old do not experience dementia, and not all those who have dementia are old.  People in their twenties have been diagnosed with dementia, while many very elderly people have healthy, active minds.
  2. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain.  Causes vary, from impaired blood supply to drug induced dementia, autoimmune conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, and other brain diseases.  These can strike at any time in life.
  3. Dementia is not just about losing your memory.  Everyone is affected differently by dementia.  Some people experience changes in perception, many suffer short-term memory loss or begin to forget recent events while older memories remain intact, while others find the way they think, their personality or ability to communicate is affected.
  4. It is possible to live well with dementia.  Even after short-term memory fails and recent events cannot be remembered, people with dementia will very often remember how they felt.  Trips out, time spent with loved ones, enjoyable experiences – these all continue to matter.  Perceptual distortions may mean black mats inside building entrances may appear as deep and sheer sided holes to a person whose dementia has altered the way they perceive the world.  They might need time and patience as they probe the mat with a walking stick to ensure it is safe to proceed.  Time, patience and dignity are not a lot to ask when coping with a distorted world.  After losing years of memories, beginning with the most recent, some people may only remember times when kettles were all heated on a stove.  Exchanging their modern electric kettle for a metal kettle that is intended to be heated on a stove hob is a small adjustment that means they can enjoy their independence for longer.
  5. There is more to a person than the dementia.  Residents at one residential home were exasperated at one resident who was continually tapping on surfaces as she passed them, seemingly without reason.  The noise was annoying.  It turned out she was one of the analysts who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War and helped break wartime enemy codes, analysing messages in Morse Code and other signals.  Learning of her impressive past gave other new respect for and interest in her and a group of scouts were invited to hear her talk of her wartime code breaking activities.  Her quality of life improved immeasurably when everyone understood where her tapping obsession came from and came to know and respect the person behind the dementia.  What is interpreted as an inevitable dementia is often frustration, embarrassment and anger resulting from a person with dementia being harried and/or made into a spectacle or figure of ridicule because they need a little more time and for people to understand their challenges and make allowances for them and allow them to maintain their dignity.

Become a Dementia Friend

You can help create a dementia friendly society just by talking to friends about what you have learned.

If you work at the University, ask your line manager about attending the free, internal Dementia Awareness training course offered through Learning & Development.  Anyone can attend free 45 minute local training session to learn more or just sign up to watch a five minute online video exploring how people can live well with dementia to become a Dementia Friend and spread these five simple key messages to reduce the fear and stigma surrounding dementia and encourage everyone in society to help those with dementia to live well.

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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