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World Alzheimer’s Month: ‘Know dementia, know Alzheimer’s’

To mark World Alzheimer’s Month this September the Gibraltar Alzheimer’s and Dementia Society is raising awareness about the warning signs of dementia. The Society is holding a month-long campaign including events and the Chronicle will be publishing articles weekly on Tuesday’s.

This year's World Alzheimer's Month marks the 10th anniversary since the campaign was launched in 2012. Every September, people come together from all around the world and it is only through a truly global effort that we can raise much needed awareness and challenge the stigma and misinformation that still arounds dementia.

World Alzheimer's Month, Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI), the global federation of over 100 Alzheimer's and Dementia associations across the world including The Gibraltar Alzheimer's & Dementia Society are encouraging everyone to Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer's by spotting the warning signs of dementia and to seek out information, advice and support which can potentially lead to a timely diagnosis. Knowing these signs is now even more important now than ever.

Dementia is a profoundly life-changing condition and receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be a challenging and difficult process, in addition the stigma which still surrounds dementia means that many people avoid seeking a diagnosis until later stages of the condition.

The campaign centres around the warning signs of dementia and the importance of a timely diagnosis. GADS is calling attention to recognising the warning signs and symptoms of dementia and to early diagnosis. An early diagnosis opens the door to future care and treatment and helps people to plan ahead while they are still able to make important decisions on their care/support needs and on their financial and legal matters. It also helps them and their families to receive practical information, advice and guidance as they face new challenges.

Reactions to a diagnosis can range from dismay and deep sadness to anger and despair, but for many people it an also come as a relief. A diagnosis may well provide long-awaited answers for a failing memory, communication problems and changes in behaviour. There is strong evidence that an early diagnosis helps a person with dementia to continue to live independently in their own home for longer; this helps to enhancing the quality of life for people with dementia, their carers and providing substantial savings on long-term care cost as well as avoiding early or unnecessary admissions to hospital or residential care.

TEN WARNING SIGNS OF DEMENTIA

The signs of dementia are very subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious, early symptoms also depend on the type of dementia and vary a great deal from person to person. Although the early signs vary, common early symptoms of dementia include :-

Memory Loss - A person with dementia may forget things more often or not remember them at all.

Difficulty performing familiar tasks - A person with dementia may have trouble with all the steps involved in preparing a meal.

Problems with Language - A person with dementia may forget words or substitute inappropriate words, making sentences difficult to understand. They may also have trouble understanding others.

Disorientation to time and place - A person with dementia may have difficulty finding their way to a familiar place or feel confused about where they are, or think they are back in some past time of their life.

Poor or deceased judgement - When this ability is affected by dementia, the person may have difficulty making appropriate decisions, such as what to wear in cold weather.

Problems keeping track of things - A person with dementia may find they rely on friends and family or other memory aids for keeping track of things.

Misplacing things - A person with dementia may not know what the keys are for.

Changes in mood and behaviour - Someone with dementia can have rapid mood swings, for no apparent reason. They can become confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Some people can become disinhibited.

Trouble with images and spatial relationships - A person with dementia may have difficulty judging distance or direction when driving a car.

Withdrawal from work or social activities - Dementia may cause a person to lose interest in previously enjoyed activities or require cues prompting them to become involved.

Sometimes people fail to recognise that these symptoms indicate that something is wrong, they may mistakenly assume that such behaviour is a normal part of ageing process. Symptoms may also develop gradually and go unnoticed for a long time and some people may refuse to act even when they know something is wrong.

If you are concerned or recognise any of the warning signs speak to a doctor. A correct diagnosis of dementia at an early stage is important for early treatment, support and planning for the future.

Daphne Alcantara, GADS Chairperson, said : "Remember that many conditions have symptoms similar to dementia, so it is important not to assume that someone has dementia just because some of the above symptoms are present. Strokes, depression, excessive long-term alcohol consumption, infections, hormonal disorders, nutritional deficiencies and brain tumours can all cause dementia-like symptoms and many of these conditions can be treated."


TALK WITH A DOCTOR

Dementia is often diagnosed too late when a person may not have the ability to make decisions for themselves, or benefit from available treatment.

A complete medical assessment may identify a treatable condition and make sure that it is treated correctly, or it may confirm the presence of dementia and whether it is Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia. The doctor will ask about past and current medical problems, family medical history, any medication being taken and the problems with memory, thinking or behaviour that are causing concern. The doctor may wish to speak to a close family member who can help provide all the necessary information. After considering the person's symptoms and ordering screening tests, the doctor may offer a preliminary diagnosis and refer the person to the Cognitive Dementia/Memory Clinic, a neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist.

Ms Alcantara said: "Some people may be resistant to the idea of visiting a doctor. In some cases, people do not realise, or else they deny that there is anything wrong with them. This can be due to the brain changes of dementia that interfere with the ability to recognise or appreciate the changes occurring. Others have an insight of the changes but may be afraid of having their fears confirmed. Receiving a diagnosis of dementia is often a challenging and difficult process, to add to this the stigma surrounding dementia means that many people avoid seeking a diagnosis until the very late stages of the condition. We need to change this. One of the most effective ways to overcome this problem is to find another reason for a visit to the doctor, perhaps suggest a check-up for a symptom that the person is willing to acknowledge such as blood pressure or suggest a review of a long-term condition or medication. Be sure to provide a lot or reassurance, a calm, caring attitude at this time can help overcome the person's very real worries and fears".

Contact GADS for information and support - Email : gadschairman@gibtelecom.net Tel : (00350) 56001422 FB : gibraltaralzheimersanddementiasociety

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