One in six people in the UK have been diagnosed with some form of dementia, so it is not surprising that almost all of us will have a connection with the disease – whether it is somebody within your family group, your friendship circle, your community or through your profession.
It is thought that by 2025, there will be 1 million people living with dementia.
So what actually is dementia?
The word dementia is an umbrella term for multiple types of the disease and includes the group of symptoms. The most common types of dementia are vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but there also lesser known types such as frontotemporal dementia and Lewy bodies.
Dementia only occurs when the brain is affected by a disease. There are thought to be over 100 known causes of dementia, but most relate to changes in the structure and chemistry of the brain, which leads to the damage and, eventually, the death of brain cells.
There are multiple symptoms and it is quite possible that someone with the disease may not even realise they are affected. Statistics also indicate that there are a large number of people with dementia who have had no formal diagnosis.
Whilst most of us would be aware of the obvious symptom of memory loss, there are other indicators which we should all be aware of. Sometimes a simple task such as making a cup of tea can be extremely difficult for someone with dementia, as they can find it difficult to work out the order of the steps in the process. So it might be that the kettle is boiled, the sugar is put in the cup, but the tea bag is forgotten. Or the water is poured in, but the tea bag is forgotten. Something very simple that they have done thousands of times during their life can suddenly seem like a monumental task.
Difficulty with perception and judging distances are also issues that someone with dementia can struggle with. When you walk into a supermarket, most of us will pay little attention to the black or dark foot mats that cover the front entrance. However, to someone with dementia, this large dark area can appear to be a vast bottom-less pit – their brains cannot perceive the difference in the flooring. So if you see someone hesitantly checking out with one foot that the mat isn’t a hole, this may explain why. It is also the reason that many retailers are making an effort to turn their stores into ‘dementia-friendly’ environments.
Unfortunately the only guarantee for someone with dementia is that the symptoms and effects will worsen over time; dementia is a generally progressive disease.
Whilst the research is on-going, there is no known cure for dementia. The importance, historically, has therefore been on ways to help treat the symptoms of dementia to ensure that the individual concerned can live comfortably and continue in their day-to-day lives the best they can.
The lack of a cure also highlights the importance of being ‘dementia aware’. You may have seen in the media that various towns and communities are campaigning to make their area dementia friendly, something that the Alzheimer’s Society strongly supports. By last year the Alzheimer’s Society had received commitment from 63 communities to be become dementia friendly, which far exceeded David Cameron’s aim of 20 communities by this year.
All of the solicitors in the Private Client team at Fisher Jones Greenwood have also undertaken training to become dementia friendly, which is something that we are proud to be a part of and to support.
We often encounter clients or family members of clients, who have just received an early diagnosis of dementia. We understand that it can be a very worrying time for not just our clients, but also their family.
Even if a client has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, it can still be possible to prepare Lasting Powers of Attorney and it is often their GP or medical practitioner who has encouraged the preparation of the documents.
It is also important that the client’s Will is up to date, as unfortunately this is not something that can be changed once the symptoms of dementia have worsened.
For more information on dementia, including the cause of, the different type, treatment, planning ahead, support and research, please visit the Alzheimer’s Society website by clicking here.
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