Only a few days ago I was writing my last blog on dementia. (look up Dementia under TOPICS) “Dementia Puzzle” commented on a simple activity programme for sufferers of early stage dementia and I went on to talk about the ExtraCare’s Enriched Opportunities Programme which adopts a similar approach.
When I was recently on holiday in America, I opened a copy of the Daily Mail dated 4th December 2011, and low and behold there is a double page article in the health section. It covers the experience of Ann Curtis and her daughter Joanne Knowles. Ann had early stage dementia and Joanne, like many other relatives in similar positions, was trying to find ways to help her mother. After the usual stumbling around with GP’s unable to effectively diagnose the condition, Ann came across “cognitive stimulation”, which is the fancy name researchers and academics have given to keeping people active mentally and physically with familiar things.
The story goes on to recount how Ann set up a small group of sufferers to meet and share activities. Like I said previously, it is not rocket science. What we need is an army of volunteers, like Joanne, to be encouraged to set up small projects all over the country. We don’t need fancy names or any more academic research. As a society we just need to get on with it.
It is clear that loneliness and isolation compound the problems of memory loss in later life. Misdiagnosis and no diagnosis only add to the confusion about confusion. Simple, structured and regular engagement with older people can lift many of them out of the downward spiral of despair about dementia. Indeed evidence has shown that many of them do not have dementia at all, but may be suffering from more treatable illnesses such as depression.
Voluntary organisations such as AGE UK, need to be doing much more in this area by offering encouragement, support and opportunity to the thousands of people like Ann and Joanne. We need as a society to mobilise more passion and compassion about an epidemic which already threatens to overwhelm the NHS and leave the elderly and their relatives stranded and alone.