In the last few months I have taken up running. My aged body often reminds me this was a rash decision at my time of life, although I do feel a great sense of achievement from doing it. However, the way I feel after a run reminds me we are all getting older and things deteriorate with age; and it’s not just physically we change but mentally as well. We are used to hearing the elderly complain that their memory isn’t quite what it was. We get so used to this it is easy to overlook when perhaps the changes we are observing are more than just forgetfulness. Our brains start deteriorating around 27 years of age. We lose brain cells regularly after that, and various things can accelerate that loss. There are different types of dementia but they all involve the accelerated loss of brain cells causing the functioning of our brains to deteriorate earlier than would have been expected and at a faster rate than normal.
It is therefore often easy for family and friends to not realise someone they have known for a long time is experiencing a problem that needs diagnosis and help. We get used to the forgetfulness; we make allowances and don’t fully appreciate the deterioration as it happens imperceptibly in front of us. We know from scientific research roughly how many people in our population will have dementia and currently we have only identified about 60% of them. This means there are a significant number of people out there suffering from dementia without a diagnosis and therefore without medical help. One response to this may be, “well there’s no cure so does it matter?” Well we think it does matter. For some sufferers there are drugs that can slow the process down and for everyone there are social supports that can be put in place both for the sufferers and their families.
Therefore, I would like to recruit your help. If you have any concerns that a family member or friend may have a memory problem, or have been behaving in a way not typical for them compared to past years try and get them to see their doctor for a memory assessment. There is also always advice and help available from the Alzheimer’s Society, they have a helpline number 01603 763 556 not sure what to do give them a ring.
Christmas is coming and dementia sufferers, as well as other frail and elderly people, are especially at risk over long public holidays; in fact they are more at risk over the whole winter. There’s a lot we can all do to help people who are frailer than us.
Icy pavements and roads can be treacherous, it is so easy for an elderly person to break a hip with a simple slip on ice; also cold weather can stop people from getting out and about. Keep in touch with your elderly friends, neighbours and family and ask if they need any practical help, or if they’re feeling under the weather.
Make sure they’re stocked up with enough food supplies for a few days, in case they can’t go out. If they do need to go out in the cold, encourage them to wear shoes with a good grip and a scarf around the mouth to protect them from the cold air, and to reduce their risk of chest infections. And make sure they get any prescription medicines before the Christmas holidays start and especially if bad weather is forecast at any time in the next few months.
If they need help over the holiday period when the GP practice or pharmacy is closed, call NHS111 and speak to a call adviser who will be able to direct you to a local service that is open. You can also find information at www.nhs.uk .
Thank you in anticipation for your help in these matters and hopefully we can ALL have a Merry Christmas and a healthier New Year.