Fulfilled living in later life
Pilgrims Friend Milward House 2023 33

How dementia affects a person

As part of The Way We Care, our staff are trained to spot the ways dementia may affect a person, and how to offer support

Many people who come and live with us in our care homes will be living with some form of dementia, be it diagnosed or undiagnosed. It is estimated that by 2030 the number of people living with dementia in the UK will be more than one million.

There are over 200 different types of dementia with the most common ones diagnosed being Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Dementia is a group of symptoms and is caused by different diseases that damage the brain.

Whilst the most known effect of dementia is memory loss, as it is a disease of the brain it can affect all other areas which are affected by brain function. Signs of dementia may also include:

- Visual disturbances, such as a reduction in visual field and changed depth perception. These can lead to trips and falls.

- A change motor skills, with a reduction in fine motor skills and ultimately a reduction in gross motor skills.

- Changes in behaviour and emotional fluctuations.

- Difficulties with forming and comprehending language. This explains why people living with dementia sometimes appear to go “off on a tangent” or don’t do what they appear to have agreed to do – they no longer understand what the background and content of the conversation was.

None of the above changes occurs in isolation which explains why people living with dementia and their carers experience complex challenges. The changes are progressive but not necessarily linear or predictable. There may be fluctuations of ability even within a day – in the morning a person can be very capable of getting themselves dressed and participating in daily living such as having meals and doing chores, but by the evening they may struggle to perform basic self-care and need a lot more support as their brain function is more impaired.

Though the changes described above sound difficult and can create challenging situations when caring for someone with dementia, we know through the work done by Professor Tom Kitwood (Dementia Reconsidered, 1997) that the personhood remains. The person living with dementia continues to have feelings, likes and dislikes, and although they may not remember your name or what they did earlier, they will know exactly how they feel about the situation and the people they are with.

The Way We Care, our bespoke approach to caring for older people including those living with dementia, focuses on seeing the person first, knowing their needs, likes and dislikes and ensuring this is well communicated among all staff.

All our staff across our care homes, including housekeepers and kitchen staff, receive training in how to support a person living with dementia to continue living a fulfilled life.

Our The Way We Care Leads have had additional training and receive ongoing support to make sure that those living with us are fully supported and their needs are known. They have the skills to notice changes in dementia in a person and can support care staff to find the most appropriate approach of caring for this person so that they continue to see the person first.

Our The Way We Care Leads partner with relatives and significant others to find out what matters to the person living with dementia, what their life history is and what have they enjoyed doing. They let staff know so meaningful conversations and interactions can continue. Prompts like memory boxes may be created to form part of this support.

Pilgrims Friend Middlefields House Garden Couple crop

If you are caring for someone with dementia at home and think they might benefit from coming to live in one of our care homes where they will be cared for by our dedicated staff, please get in touch with your closest home. You are welcome to visit and chat to our managers and The Way We Care Lead.

Useful links

More details on the types and signs of dementia from can be found on the websites of the Alzheimer's Society and the NHS. Also see:

Dementia Carers Count - A charity providing free courses and support for those caring for someone with dementia.

Glorious Opportunity
- Dr Jennifer Bute, who herself lives with dementia, has created resources to help others written from a Christian perspective.