The reality of dementia – understanding makes life better

You know how you can walk into your kitchen then can’t remember why you went there, but as soon as you start walking upstairs it comes back to you? That’s not dementia.

A person with dementia would be more likely to walk into the room and wonder whose kitchen it was.know-dementia-logo

This was one of the points made at a dementia awareness day held in Buxted yesterday. Another awareness day is to be held in Uckfield on Saturday and it is well worth going along if you would like to gain an insight into this disease of the brain which eventually kills its victims.

An exercise conducted during a talk given in Buxted by Alex Morrison-Cowan from Know Dementia – a charity offering education, advice and support for people affected by dementia – illustrated some of the problems faced by people diagnosed with dementia.

The task was to list instructions for making a cup of tea. Some lists started with ‘find a kettle’, others with ‘find the kitchen’.

But Alex said the problem with dementia was that it affected memory of words and particularly nouns, those used to describe things, so if your list included objects such as kettle, milk, tea bag then problems would already be brewing.

He also said people might be able to remember words such as cup but not be able to associate the word with the object. So if somebody with dementia was asked to find a cup, they might open a kitchen cupboard and see a cup but not recognise it and so move on to look in all the other cupboards.

By the time they got to the end they would likely have forgotten they had looked in the first cupboard and start all over again.

It’s not just words and short term memory that are affected by this disease which gets progressively worse. Spatial awareness goes.

Take, for example, a cup and saucer. Somebody with dementia might enjoy their tea but have difficulty in re-joining the cup to the saucer so putting the cup down next to the saucer rather than on it.

Alex and his wife Jennie looked after Jennie’s father who came to live with them when he had dementia. They had known something was wrong when he said: “Oh, look at that tree where lovely plimsolls are growing.”

He was trying to say ‘lemons’ but that word had gone and he had picked out the word next to it in his brain which happened to be plimsolls.

The point of Alex’s talk was to turn people into dementia friends. “I want you to be able to treat people with dementia better, be more caring of them. Remember they are a person who has lived an active life and done lots of things.”

He explained the progress of dementia by talking about two bookcases.

The first was built by parents for their baby. It provided space for emotions and was rock solid.

But as babies grew up, maturing into adults with a growing knowledge of facts and figures they would need storage for all this new information and rush out and put together a new bookcase, separate from the one for emotions. It would be a bit rickety.

Then one day there would be an earthquake and the bookcase storing information would shake out memories from the top shelf – short term memories. As the earthquake got worse more memories would be shaken out from the second shelf down and then the third.

What can happen with people with dementia is that their memories disappear until, perhaps, they have only those remaining of a 15-year-old and then as a 12-year-old. They can clearly remember what was happening in those days of their life and those days are now their day-to-day reality.

Others will say to the person ‘But that was such a long time ago’ and then somebody will come along and say ‘Hello Dad’ but the person with dementia will think “What do you mean. How can I be a Dad? Where is my Mum?”

Alex said: “When dealing with dementia you must deal with that reality. Stop dragging that person with dementia into your world. If they are living in 1956 then start thinking about what was happening then and talk to them about that.”

Alex said the worst thing anyone could do when talking to somebody with dementia was ask them questions – because they would not know the answers. Statements were better.

Jason Bailey, landlord at The Buxted Inn, which was hosting the dementia awareness event said he and his staff tried to help by asking customers with dementia whether they would like “their usual” and then naming the drink.

Alex said it would be better to make a statement welcoming them in and then saying “I’ll get your usual” and naming the drink. There were other tips too and the charity he helped found, Know Dementia, is happy to share knowledge. They can be contacted on 01273 494300 or by email on

If you would like to learn more about dementia then you would be welcome to go along to an awareness day in Uckfield on Saturday. It will be held at the Victoria Pavilion, New Town, home of Sussex Support Service, from 10.30am until 4pm with 45-minute interactive Dementia Friends sessions taking place at 11am and 2pm.

• Buxted has been chosen to run a pilot scheme leading the way in dementia care. Read more here.

See also:

Town councillors appointed to controversial Uckfield regeneration committee

Uckfield girls complete 22-mile swimathon for Diabetes UK

Iron House gym celebrates its first anniversary in Uckfield

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