Opinion: “Dementia affects the affected individual physically and psychologically.”

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“Dementia is a syndrome that affects memory, thinking and behavior, and although it affects older people mainly, it is not a normal part of aging. It is a major cause of worldwide disability and dependency. We are privileged to have a better health and social care system in Scotland than in other countries, but in all our communities here, dementia is a serious problem.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, but there are many others, and each one has a physical and psychological impact on those affected. In the family and others around them, the social and economic impact affects everyone. It is often overlooked in the early stages, but over time, as the illness progresses, the individual becomes almost totally dependent on others. In the way of medication or treatment, there is not much, but early diagnosis helps sufferers to stay as long as possible healthy.

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“A public health approach is recommended by the World Health Organization. That means there are things we should do because there is evidence that it is possible to change some of the risk factors for dementia. So we have hope, but we need to do a lot of things.

“Dementia has been very much in the news in recent years. As a consequence, individuals have become more conscious. More individuals, if they’re concerned, will go to their primary care doctor. But individuals are still frightened and not sure what to do if it happens in their own family. Three new projects funded last year by the Dementia Services Development Trust have already made a difference, and the Trust is poised to provide more funding in 2020.

The Dementia Services Development Trust has been around in Scotland for over thirty years. Its goal is to improve the lives of dementia-affected people, including families. In the past, their fundraising and support created the Dementia Center at the University of Stirling, which was the world’s first of its kind, and was a model for the development of dementia teaching and development.

The trustees, all of whom are volunteers, have now turned their attention towards a new way of thinking about dementia. Their objective now is to break through the usual ideas about dementia after listening to individuals with dementia and their families, and looking at research. That’s why they launched last year’s Dementia Disruption Awards. In Scotland, three of the five awards went to projects, although they are open to anyone.

The successful Scottish projects are intended to help people get out and about and learn new things with their families. Guidelines from the World Health Organization emphasize the importance of physical activity and the management of diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Mental activity is also important. Each of the projects works in a practical and positive way on one of these priorities.

When they have trouble getting around, the transport project is based on how to help people travel. It is possible that people with dementia have given up driving. These individuals need to learn how to rely on public transportation, perhaps for the first time. It’s about finding new ways to make transit agencies and their staff know how unhelpful they are without meaning to be at times. It’s important not to be trapped indoors if you want to stay physically active. To get around by bus, train and ferry, you need confidence.

Comic seeks to help dementia patients use transportation without fear

The Wege Project created a dementia walking area at an agricultural college, recognizing the importance of getting out in the fresh air and moving around. Why? Well, so that people can visit and take a walk. But also so that people who design parks and open spaces can see what would make it easier for people with dementia to navigate on foot, alone or with a companion in a public space.

Finally, a documentary photographer and a composer worked with people with dementia, introducing them to photography, taking pictures and curating a soundtrack exhibition. It does not come from the time and patience required to listen and support, and the ability to let the person with dementia take the lead.

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