How do you recognise when someone has dementia and how do you take care of them?
In Malta there are around 7000 people who have dementia, with studies showing that the number is expected to increase to at least 13,000 by 2050.
The experts believe this just the tip of the expert, because there are a number of factors, including the lifestyle we are living, which is increasing the risks of this condition.
TVM has investigated the phenomenon of dementia with experts, who suggested ways in which we can activity contribute to help those who are directlly affected by this condition.
The story of Connie Mifsud who was found safe and sound after she went missing for a few hours on Sunday, brought back bad memories for Marianne Vella, whose father fell ill with dementia when he was only 59 y ears old. Today he is 91 and has therefore lived more than one third of his life with this condition.
Marianne said she understands perfectly the feeling of panic and anxiety which relatives of those suffering with dementia go through, a condition which is invisible to those who do not know its effects and repercussions.
“You ask him his name and he will tell you his name, and say that that he is going to Church for example, and he knows how to get to Church, but is not capable of coming back. Or else he will have money in his pocket and finds someone who takes advantage of him. When someone is physically healthy, the relatives have a greater responsibility, because he will tell you that he is going to buy the paper, or to the grocer or to his brother’s, so one has to physically follow him here,” she explained.
Prof Charles Scerri, who has carried out research about dementia, said that one needs to make a distinction between when someone “forgets” things, to when someone is exhibiting symptoms associated with dementia. This includes cases when elderly people disappear for a number of hours; incidents which unfortunately do not always have a happy ending.
He said that while it is normal for someone to forget where he has left his keys or where he has parked his car, the same cannot be said for those who lose their orientation of who they are or where they are.
“A person who has dementia does not remember that he has forgotten something, and in fact he asks you more than once …for example he will ask you what time it is four, five times within one minute..and if you tell him I already told you, he will contradict you and say, no you didn’t tell me. Now a person who is naturally forgetful does not automatically mean he suffers from dementia, if he realises that he has forgotten something.”
Prof Scerri said this condition knows no boundaries and anyone can be effected including such personalities as Robin Williams, Rosa Parks, Margaret Thatcher and David Cassidy all of whom suffered from dementia.
We asked him how one can recognise that a person has dementia. “Those who suffer from this condition rarely go very far because they are very confused, and they rarely go much further from where they left, so generally we find them around within a half a kilometre radius. They tend to go round in circles in the same place, so you have to check whether they took their car keys, this is something we do not pay enough attention to, and we need to search places they used to frequent and experience in their youth.”
It is estimated that a number of the people directly affected by dementia will almost double in Malta, from 7,000 to 13,000 people by the year 2050.