Dear Dr Nina: 'My lovely mum has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's'
Q My lovely mum has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she is obviously very upset about it. I have moved home and will be her carer and I was wondering what I can do in a practical sense to help improve her life. I have read a lot about diet and supplements being of use - in terms of staving off the disease - and I was wondering if you could help me on that front. What supplements would be useful and what foods etc. should she be eating and/or staying away from?
Dr Nina replies: Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.
Symptoms include memory loss, confusion and personality change. Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, accounts for 60 to 80pc of cases. Research suggests that dementia is the most feared health condition. People regularly put off seeking a diagnosis or opening up to family friends and health professionals about the impact on their quality of life.
The majority of people with dementia are over 65, but the condition is not a normal part of getting older. There is no strong evidence that any nutritional supplements slow or prevent dementia. Leading a healthy lifestyle is protective and important. Increasing physical activity, eating healthily, not smoking, drinking in moderation, staying mentally active and socially engaged reduces the risk of developing dementia and are important even in those who have been diagnosed with the condition.
Other conditions can mimic dementia and cause personality change along with memory loss and confusion. These include anxiety and stress, depression, infection, thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiency, and side effects of medication.
Other symptoms of dementia include changes in behaviour, confusion and disorientation, delusions and hallucinations, difficulty communicating, problems judging speeds and distances and losing the sense of smell.
It can be difficult to raise the issue of personality and memory change with someone you love. They may be completely unaware of the change that has occurred. Depression is a common and treatable condition in the elderly. A physical examination and assessment is important to ensure general physical health and rule out any additional treatable illness. Start a conversation with your mother about how she feels. Managing quality of life is paramount in dementia.
Developing support mechanisms and strategies to live well are important. Patients are encouraged to meet friends, engage in community activities and to take up new hobbies. The majority of people with dementia are living at home. In most cases change happens slowly. Being prepared and informed allows space to adjust to this change. Some tips to help with memory change include: staying physically and mentally active, stick to a routine, be patient and allow more time to do things, write things down - keep a diary or use a notebook, Keep important things in the same place.
Both living with dementia and caring for a loved one with the condition can be extremely challenging, however, with the correct care and support people with dementia can maintain a good quality of life and remain actively engaged in their community.