Breaking the silence – Dementia Awareness Week

Dementia Awareness Week, organised by the Alzheimer’s Society, is this week. It is an annual event designed to shed some light on a condition that is all too often often misunderstood, and to encourage anyone who feels as if they, or someone they are close to, might be suffering with symptoms to take some action. The week is a key part of the Alzheimer’s Society’s strategy to try and get people to open up about an, admittedly very difficult, subject and to encourage those who might be burying their heads in the sand to stop and take steps to get help.

I wrote in a previous blog that my Mother has Alzheimer’s, a form of Dementia. Dementia is not a single condition but an ‘umbrella’ term for a number of different conditions; perhaps the most recognisable of which is Alzheimer’s. In fact, this is the most common cause of Dementia in the UK and there are some 496,000 people in the country who suffer from it. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be wide ranging, from forgetting names, places or appointments and frequently becoming confused, to becoming withdrawn or experiencing mood swings. These are the kinds of symptoms that can be very distressing when they first start to appear, which is why Dementia Awareness Week is such an important event in terms of helping people to come to terms with, and to manage, the condition. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s – like most types of Dementia – is progressive, which means that the brain will become increasingly damaged.

A couple of weeks ago I was in a clothes retailer when there was suddenly a lot of fuss at the till. When I asked what was happening they told me that a lady comes in almost daily to ask for a refund but that her receipt is out of date and they won’t issue one. I asked the cashier if she thought the lady had Alzheimer’s and she very quickly said it wasn’t possible – the lady could very quickly add up the amounts on the bill to the exact penny. My Mum does the 60 second sudoku challenge in 30 seconds and can do any multiple arithmetic you can throw at her. However at 68 she doesn’t know what the word is for her coat and just this morning she told me my 80 year old Aunty had caught Down’s Syndrome, which took me a little while to work out that she meant pneumonia….obviously an easy mistake to make! Her most frequently used phrase is “I’m good at numbers you know”…and until a few years ago I didn’t know that this cruel dichotomy was just a part of the incurable disease…by the sounds of it neither did anyone working in the store, as they had the lady promptly escorted out by security.

The celebrities getting behind Dementia Awareness Week campaigns this year include Sir Paul McCartney, Lily Allen, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Paul O’Grady, who were involved in a recording of the Beatles’ track ‘A Little Help From My Friends’, used to launch the ‘Dementia Friends’ campaign, which aims to sign up 1 million people to receive tips on how to help those with dementia.

Dementia Awareness Week incorporates numerous events designed to raise awareness as well as funds, (including one just this weekend in Victoria Park incorporating piñatas) so there are many ways in which members of the public can get involved in helping to publicise the week, as well as taking part in it. You could display a poster, whether at work or in one of the windows of your home, and there are also events taking place all over the country you can attend – or why not organise your own? As the theme this year is ‘opening up’ about Dementia, the Alzheimer’s Society is encouraging people to open up their homes, gardens and streets to raise money for this great cause.

If you can take a little time to read about the disease, which affects almost half a million people in the UK, and with more education and open discussion perhaps the incident that I described in the store might not happen so often.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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