Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are devastating both for those unlucky enough to develop them, but also their families.
The early stages of dementia must be terrifying, as cognitive abilities disappear, and while we cannot know how it feels to experience advanced dementia when the ability to communicate or to understand what is being said is affected terribly, we can only assume that for most people it can only be worse than that.
For family members, watching their loved ones gradually losing not only their independence, but also the personality traits that made them who they are, is horrific.
Many families continue to care for their loved ones when their dementia has rendered them unrecognisable as the partner or parent they once were, seeing it as their last opportunity to show love or gratitude.
While dementia can reach a stage where 24-hour care in a specialist setting is essential, this is often reached as a result of personality changes resulting in challenging behaviour that compromises the safety of all concerned. If this behaviour could be addressed, it may give families more time together.
News that an American team has developed an approach to managing these symptoms offers some hope to these families.
The six-step approach can help clinicians to identify and manage most behavioural symptoms of dementia without medications.
Instead the focus is on identifying triggers for these behaviours and establishing structured routines, both of which are likely to reduce the distress caused by confusion.
Designed for use in any setting, including primary care, this tool has the potential to give families extra time together, and to reduce some of the fear that dementia causes.
I hope those commissioning care for this patient group will make resources available to test its efficacy, and assuming it has positive effects, will ensure it is rolled out widely and quickly.