Dementia

Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is the broad term that is used to describe a group of symptoms that are caused by disorders impacting the brain. The most well known symptom of dementia is memory loss. Dementia also affects a person’s thinking, behaviour and emotions. Everyday tasks such as driving and cooking are impacted, as are a person’s ability to work, socialise and engage in leisure activities.

There are many different types of dementia, each with it’s own set of symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia and Parkinson’s disease are three of the most common types of dementia.

Signs of dementia can include:

  • Confusion
  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in personality
  • Trouble with familiar tasks like cooking or driving
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Difficulty with problem-solving
  • Misplacing things
  • Finding it hard to retrace steps
  • Repeating things
  • Poor judgement
  • Problems with writing or speaking (that weren’t previously present)

How can a psychologist can help with dementia?

  1. Assessment

Psychologists can use interviews and questionnaires to assess a person’s functioning across important life areas. Through a broad assessment of the person a psychologist can provide key information on memory, cognitive function, mood, anxiety, agitation, quality of life, daily routines, communication, social skills and much more.

Because each person experiences dementia differently it is important to conduct a broad and individualised assessment. The assessment should include the person’s whole life history from their childhood experiences to their current day picture.

The formal diagnosis and ongoing medical treatment of dementia is best assessed by your general practitioner or specialist neurologist.

  1. Supporting someone living with dementia

The role of providing care for a partner, family member or friend living with dementia can be rewarding, but also challenging, and at times heartbreaking. Caring for a loved one with dementia can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride.

A caregiver can have a huge impact on the quality of life of someone living with dementia. At times though this role can bring up feelings of resentment, sadness, fear, guilt, helplessness and anger. These are all normal and understandable responses to a huge change in your life, the life of the person you a caring for and your relationship with that person.

There are many ways that you can support someone living with dementia, but the most important thing you can do is take care of yourself. As clichéd as it may sound, if you don’t look after yourself properly, you will be unable to care for your loved one. Or, at the very least, you risk winding up feeling burnt-out and resentful, which may put extra stress on the relationship between you and the person you are caring for.

Sometimes taking care of yourself involves finding ways to make time for simple things like going for a walk or having a coffee with a friend. It might also mean making more significant changes like arranging breaks for yourself, by asking a family member or a friend to take care of your loved one. You might also find it useful to speak openly about your feelings about caring for your loved one. Expressing feelings such as anger and resentment, rather than bottling them up can mean that these feelings are less likely to get in the way of you caring for your loved one.

Richard Stratton, psychologist at Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology provides expert care to those supporting someone with dementia. He understands the pain that this role can sometimes cause for partners, family members and friends. Richard provides a non-judgemental space for you to talk through your feelings and feel more equipped and confident in your role as a carer.

To make an appointment with Richard call our helpful client support team on (03) 9376 1958 or email info@innermelbpsychology.com.au

  1. Treatment and support for mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety

Learning to live with dementia can be a frightening and isolating experience. It is estimated that up to 40% of people with dementia experience significant depression. Whilst there is much that cannot be changed about a person’s dementia, there may be ways to reduce their depression.

In addition to the standard symptoms of depression, depression in dementia often presents as a person being more withdrawn and isolating themselves. It can also be expressed as agitation, such as repetitive questions, fidgeting and crying.

One of the key reasons a person with dementia can develop depression is feeling that their purpose in life is diminished. Dementia can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to socialise, learn, travel, volunteer, try new things, be independent and go to work (if the person is still working). Dementia can also change how the person feels in their role as a partner, parent, grandparent, friend and community member. All of these changes have significant effects on the person’s identity and sense of self. Dementia typically also results in a gradual loss of independence as the person relies more heavily on others to care for them.

Navigating the changes that come with dementia can be isolating, frightening and emotional. A psychologist can provide support, understanding and strategies to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as a space for people with dementia to speak openly about their fears, frustrations and sadness.

A psychologist can help establish daily activities and systems to provide a person with feelings of being useful and engaged in their everyday life. They can also help a person with dementia to communicate their fears and concerns to their family, as well as to express what they need. Psychologists can assist with setting up systems and routines, as well as improve communication strategies to help the person with dementia to feel less isolated.

  1. Assistance in managing challenging behaviours

In many ways dementia is a disease that disrupts our ability to communicate with others. Changes in how our brain and body function means that it can take a lot of energy and patience to get our messages out.

On occasion struggles to communicate to those around us lead to disruptive or challenging behaviours. For example, a person with dementia might keep checking the front door because they are thinking about a specific person they would like to see, but may not have the words to ask where that person is directly.

Sometimes the most difficult behaviours to manage are the repetitive ones that seem to happen every day. After a short time, we can easily start to see the annoying behaviours and forget the person underneath.

With the help of a psychologist it is possible to explore each behaviour in context and try out strategies to better understand what the person with dementia is trying to communicate. Sometimes the solutions are surprisingly simple.

Book an appointment with our expert psychologist

Richard Stratton is experienced with helping people to navigate dementia. He can provide you and your loved ones with support and practical advice about how to manage dementia.

To book an appointment with Richard call our friendly client support team on (03) 9376 1958.