Dementia should not just be thought of just an “older person’s problem”, says CPFT’s Carolyn Fuller
According to the Alzheimer's Society there are 850,000 people in the UK who are living with dementia, of which about 7,000 are in Cambridgeshire – and all the predictions say that those numbers show no signs of declining.
However some people may be surprised to know that dementia is not an illness that just "affects older people" indeed there are now over 40,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK who have been diagnosed with the condition.
My current role as a specialist mental health nurse is specifically to support people aged under 65 who have been diagnosed with a progressive dementia.
Recognising someone has dementia, particularly in younger people, is often not straight forward. It can start with a multitude of different changes such as altered behaviour, speech and language difficulties, changes in mood or motivation levels, balance and coordination difficulties, even before any memory issues arise.
Frequently, problems are first recognised at the effected person's place of work. People who previously had been high functioning may become disorganised, start to miss meetings or appointments, and fail to manage their work load. It is felt they do not "seem themselves" but it is hard to pinpoint exactly what has changed.
In retrospect, family and friends frequently say they can go back several years to when they first noticed changes occurring once a diagnosis has been made.
There's no doubt that being told you have a form of dementia can be distressing, but I also speak to people who are relieved they finally have a diagnosis.
Dementia is a life-limiting and challenging illness but my colleagues and my colleagues and I try to focus on the positives encouraging people to continue to live their lives while also supporting them to make plans for the future.
Very much part of our role is to encourage people diagnosed with dementia and their family members to arrange lasting power of attorney, not just for a person's financial affairs but also for health and welfare decisions.
We also help with application for statutory benefits, support or companionship at home while another family member is working, and enjoyable activities to keep people occupied.
This is in addition to monitoring the effected person's presentation, their response to any prescribed medication and other changes that may be causing concern.
Help is available, and if you are concerned about a relative or a friend – regardless of their age - please support them to visit their GP.
Carolyn Fuller is a specialist mental health nurse for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust's Young People with Dementia Team.