To mark Essex Dementia Day (19 January), communities across Colchester and Tendring are being urged to talk about dementia and to seek advice from their local GP if they are concerned about the illness. The initiative, organised by Essex County Council, aims to encourage local people to support those with dementia to live well.
Across the county, communities are staging a number of events aimed at increasing awareness of the illness and the impact it has on individuals and their families. Within north east Essex, an exhibition will take place at the Lion Walk Activity Centre in Colchester which aims to highlight the importance of dementia friendly communities.
Professor Alistair Burns, National Clinical Director for Dementia, said: “Dementia is something that happens slowly so it may slip by unnoticed in people we see regularly. The NHS is here to help, but diagnosis is the first big step and this is where people who know someone best can really make a difference in spotting the signs of dementia. While it may be tempting to put forgetfulness down as one of those things, it could be a sign of something more serious so I would urge everyone to take a bit of extra time to consider if someone they know may need help.”
Professor Burns also agreed to record a series of short podcasts for local GPs which provided views his on national policy issues relating to dementia.
According to national statistics, there are over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, including an estimated 20,000 in Essex. NHS England estimates there are almost 5,000 people living with dementia in north east Essex.
Dr Mark Roberts, a GP in Tiptree, is the mental health lead for the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). He said: “Many people find that as they get older, memory loss becomes more of a problem. But dementia is not just about forgetting things, it can also affect the way you think, behave and speak. If you, or someone you know, are experiencing problems that are affecting daily life and these problems have been going on for at least six months, it's a good idea to talk to a GP. Research shows that having positive social interactions can reduce the chance of dementia and depression, and help lonely people, some of whom may well be caring for someone with dementia, avoid relying on medication and long-term care.”
Dr Roberts also highlighted the importance of an early diagnosis. He added: “It is possible to live well with dementia and there is strong evidence that an early diagnosis helps someone with dementia to continue to live independently in their own home for longer. However if people are not diagnosed, they will not receive the support they need. It is therefore really important that people get an early diagnosis which opens up access to the right health and social care services.”
Stephanie Rea, Senior Manager of Service Improvement at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, said, “If you are diagnosed, you can expect to receive a range of support, including medication, non-medical interventions such as cognitive stimulation therapy, advice about managing financial affairs and access to a 24-hour helpline.”
If you feel that someone you know may be suffering or worrying about their memory then you should encourage them to speak to their GP. Even if you feel there symptoms are minimal or even more advanced they should speak to their GP as soon as possible to either rule out a diagnosis or get that support they need.
Early signs of dementia can be mild and barely noticeable, or maybe mistaken for something else. However it can include problems with memory, finding it hard to recall words, dates, names or recent events, finding it hard to follow a conversation, difficulty in making decisions as well as forgetting time or what day of the week it is as well as increased confusion, reduced concentration, personality or behaviour changes and the loss of ability to do everyday tasks.
Later symptoms often continue to get worse over time. This may happen slowly, or in sudden steps every few months or years but can be significant. Symptoms can include slowness of thought, feeling disorientated and confused, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, severe personality changes such as becoming aggressive, depression, mood swings and lack of interest or enthusiasm, finding it difficult to walk and keeping balance with frequent falls or loss of bladder control. Dementia may be a progressive disease, but help is available once patients are diagnosed.
To help people with dementia and their families with practical emotional support, the Alzheimer’s Society have recently launched the Family Navigator Service. The navigators can help patients and their families/carers find exactly what local support is best for them, listen to their needs and offer tailored information and advice. The service runs from 8am - 6pm Monday to Friday and can be contacted on 01245 260911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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