Dementia treatment and care
Bupa’s Global Director of Dementia Care, Professor Graham Stokes, provides his advice and insight on dementia treatments and care.
- What causes dementia and is it hereditary?
- Is there anything we can do to prevent dementia?
- Is it possible to slow down or even reverse dementia?
- What are the latest treatments available?
- What are your tips for caring for someone living with dementia?
- How should you approach a loved one you think has dementia but may not realise it?
- How do you best respond to someone living with dementia who repeats the same questions?
- How can you support a loved one through the anxiety and frustration that comes with not being able to do the things they used to?
- What’s the best way to communicate with someone living with dementia?
- How does being separated from loved ones affect someone living with dementia?
1. What causes dementia and is it hereditary?
Dementia is caused by a range of untreatable, progressive brain diseases.
The most common type is Alzheimer's disease, followed by Vascular dementia (caused by a series of little strokes that damage the brain) and Lewy body disease (a mixture of Parkinson’s disease and dementia).
There is no known inheritance pattern for people diagnosed over 70-years-old.
2. Is there anything we can do to prevent dementia?
- Keeping your heart healthy also protects the brain
- Diet and exercise is key to prevention
- Education and intellectual stimulation can help keep neurons firing
- Big risks: high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes
3. Is it possible to slow down or even reverse dementia?
Some medications can temporarily slow the progression of Alzheimer’s but after around 18 months they tend to stop working.
While there is no sign of a cure in the near future, supportive care can help reduce signs of aggression, anxiety or agitation.
The more you understand someone the more you can help them lead a happy life.
4. What are the latest treatments available?
There are no up and coming signs of a breakthrough when it comes to medication.
Treatments like Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) can be effective in the early stages of dementia to keep people more alert and intellectually stimulated.
In later stages of dementia it’s important for people to have a pleasant lifestyle. Activities like listening to music, singing and being involved in exercise can be therapeutic and help reduce signs of agitation, anxiety and frustration.
5. What are your tips for caring for someone living with dementia?
- Take care of yourself
- Look after your own health and wellbeing, so you’re well enough to care for your loved one
- Take time out to make sure you don’t burn out
- Ask for help if your caring role becomes too much for you to cope with
Bupa's Aged Care Support Line is a great resource for carers. A health professional can listen to and answer your questions, give you tips for any specific challenges you may be facing and connect you with more support services.
6. How should you approach a loved one you think has dementia but may not realise it?
- Avoid getting into a confrontation
- Saying something like ‘your memory is not very good’ can cause someone to become agitated or deny a problem if they feel shame or embarrassment
- Call the GP and talk about your concerns
- Once you have prepped the GP, use the next opportunity (it might be a cold or a cough) to take your loved one in for a check-up. The doctor can make an assessment and refer your loved one to a specialist if necessary
7. How do you best respond to someone living with dementia who repeats the same questions?
Repetitive questions is one of the most frustrating things for those caring for someone living with dementia.
Professor Stokes recommends:
- Try to psychologically switch off when answering the question
- Never say ‘I’ve told you already’ as the person doesn’t remember and can become frustrated
- Remember by answering the question you are being there for the person
- Your loved one may not always ask the question because they want the answer, sometimes they just need the personal contact
8. How can you support a loved one through the anxiety and frustration that comes with not being able to do the things they used to?
- Test and learn to find out which new activities make them happy
- Don’t assume because a person used to enjoy an activity they still will, it might upset someone if they can’t do something well anymore
- Break tasks into simple components to make it less complex eg. A person might not be able to make a cup of coffee, but they might be able to pass the sugar
9. What’s the best way to communicate with someone living with dementia?
This can depend on how the disease is progressing. In the early stages, you may be able to talk as normal. In later stages Professor Stokes recommends:
- Keep it short, simple, straight forward and relevant
- Avoid open questions, instead used closed questions which require a yes or no answer
- Never tell long, convoluted stories if the persons memory span is only short
- When dementia is quite advanced talk about memories from the past, rather than what happened yesterday as they might not remember which can be upsetting
10. How does being separated from loved ones affect someone living with dementia?
Separation from loved ones can affect someone living with dementia badly. It’s really important if a person is moving into a care home that their emotional needs are supported.
Being surrounded by familiar sentimental items, photos and even recordings of a loved one’s voice can help to soothe someone who is dealing with separation anxiety.