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16 June 2016

Your questions answered by Admiral Nurse Rikki Lorenti

Rikki Lorenti is an Admiral Nurse working here at SweetTree and is part of our specialist dementia care team. He has over 30 years’ experience in mental health care and has worked extensively with both elderly and early-onset dementia clients.

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Rikki was delighted to share his expert advice during a live Twitter Q&A. Thank you to everyone who took the time to Tweet or email Rikki. Here you’ll find all the questions along with Rikki’s answers and links to further information.

If you have a question of you own, or would like any more advice on any of the subjects touched on, then please email Rikki using admiralnurse@sweettree.co.uk or speak to the dementia care team on 020 7644 9554.

Admiral Nurses

Admiral Nurses are specialist dementia professionals who focus on the needs of family carers; providing psychological support, home and lifestyle advice, and connection to additional services. Admiral Nurses help families cope with challenges that arise along the dementia journey, including diagnosis, decisions, what support provision would best suit their needs and feelings of loss and bereavement as the condition progresses.

Recognising the important role that Admiral Nurses can play in supporting individuals and families affected by dementia, in 2014 SweetTree became one of the first home care providers in the country to be able to offer the vital service – in partnership with Dementia UK.

Q1a: I have an awful memory, how do I know if I have dementia?

Q1b: I’m worried about an elderly friend. Are there any websites where I can find out more about symptoms?

There is no one test that can be done to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors will diagnose Alzheimer’s, and other types of dementia, based on many different factors, including your medical history and a physical examination. They may do some other laboratory tests and also ask you about any changes in your thinking, memory and day-to-day functions.

Some of the most common symptoms of dementia include:

  • memory loss – especially problems with short term memory, remembering routes and names, or asking questions repetitively
  • difficulty with tasks and activities that require organisation and planning
  • becoming confused in unfamiliar environments
  • difficulty finding the right words
  • difficulty with numbers and handling money
  • changes in personality and mood

While these symptoms may be common, they are not necessarily a sign of dementia. If you are at all concerned you should start by visiting your GP to discuss your worries. This NHS guide may also be helpful.

Q2: Is there a cure for dementia?

Sadly there is no cure for dementia but organisations around the world are conducting research to try and establish both its cause and a cure. Currently treatment options are only looking at symptom management and slowing down the progression of the condition, which is why research is vital. Medication is available that can help slow the symptoms. There are also therapies such as CST that help keep the brain stimulated and which have been shown to have a similar effect to the medication.

I would encourage everyone who can to give their support and to get involved with the research, so one day a cure will be found. You can register your interest in dementia research here, www.joindementiaresearch.nihr.ac.uk.

Q3: What can I do to stop myself from getting dementia?

As mentioned, the cause of dementia is still unknown but following a healthy diet and lifestyle is thought to be beneficial for certain types of dementia. Try and eat a healthy diet that is packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, limit your alcohol intake, don’t smoke, take regular exercise and importantly always keep your brain active and challenged.

Q4: I’m caring for a family member with dementia and it all just feels too much, I don’t know what to do

Remember, you are not alone and there are support organisations out there who can help you, including groups based locally to you. While access to Admiral Nurses is currently very limited, you can always speak to Admiral Nurses Direct dementia helpline.

Another great resource is Dementia Diaries, a website where you can hear from other people in a similar situation and their experiences. Also register with charity Carers Trust, who will be able to point you in the direction of local support.

Q5: My mum has dementia and now barely eats or drinks, what can I do?

Dementia can greatly affect a person’s relationship to food and eating, for all sorts of reasons. This includes physical changes which may be taking place. But maintaining good nutrition remains really important.

Firstly, try not to get too stressed about it, as your Mum is likely to pick up on your anxiety. Even if you feel very frustrated or concerned, make sure you’re never pushy as that just won’t work. The calmer you can remain, the most effective you’ll be.

One of the best things you can do is to keep a meal time structure. Aim for meals to be little and often, and reduce the portion size so you are offering smaller meals. Finger foods are good, as is making drinks easily accessible around the room.

Check out this great factsheet from the Alzheimer’s Society which has lots more useful ideas.

Q6: Dad has dementia and I’m scared he’ll get lost when he goes out alone

There have been many advancements in technology that can help someone with dementia to maintain their independence, while giving family member’s piece of mind that there is a safety net in place. This includes devices that operate using GPS.

A person with dementia can wear a special watch or necklace, or carry a unit with them. The GPS means that their location can then be tracked online.

What I often hear however is that technology like this is only considered after something serious has happened, or families have had a scare. Instead of waiting until something has happened, try and start talking about these issues early on and get a system put in place.

Discuss the idea with your father and suggest clear boundaries for how the technology may be used. For example, that it will only be used as a backup in case he doesn’t return by the time he says he will. Explain that it is not to keep tabs on him or to reduce his privacy, it is merely as a safety net so he can continue leading as active a life as he wishes.

Q7: We have a family wedding abroad but I’m scared to leave Mum alone

Sometimes situations arise where we have to step back and relinquish some of our responsibility. You shouldn’t feel guilty about that. You have your own life to lead too and your own health, happiness and wellbeing is just as important as your Mum’s.

At times like this there are people who can provide additional support and care if needed, such as specialist dementia care teams who can provide support in the home and.at the frequency or level it may be needed. The key is to put systems in place that will help keep your Mum as orientated as possible.

One strategy you can also use is to set up a countdown clock for your return, to try and ease some of your Mum’s anxiety. That way she knows you will be back soon.

Q9: We’re struggling to explain dementia to the children, where do we start?

The issue of how best to help young people to understand dementia is a hot topic at the moment, with TV presenter Angela Ripon addressing the subject in a recent BBC programme. One of the key messages from the show was that educating children through dementia awareness programmes in schools is the best way to improve understanding of the disease and support for those who develop it.

However, until such programmes are introduced, the issue remains – how can you best help your children to understand? A great starting point is a new website launched by Alzheimer’s Research called Dementia Explained. It has been designed specifically for young people, with information split into three distinct age groups – Young Kids, Juniors and Teens.

You can also download a helpful factsheet put other by the Alzheimer’s Society called ‘Explaining dementia to children and young people’.

For more information on an issue surrounding dementia, care and support options, or if you would like to speak to the specialist dementia care team at SweetTree, then please call 020 7644 9554.

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