With 30 years experience in specialist dementia and Alzheimer’s care, Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa’s Global Director for Dementia Care, recognises there’s been great progress on raising awareness about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease over the years. Professor Stokes believes there’s more to be done to understand people living with this condition and how to support them.
He says: “One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘what is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?’ This is an indication that despite the progress we’ve made in the last few years to raise awareness about this issue, there’s still so much more we can do.”
“Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of dementia diagnosis. But it is just one just form of dementia, there are around 100 different types of dementia.”
“For many people living with Alzheimer’s disease, their biggest fear is losing their personality. However, to support someone with Alzheimer’s there are things we can all do to help them be at their best.
"Here are the five top things people living with Alzheimer’s have shared with me over the years.”
- I am still the same person I’ve always been
People with Alzheimer’s still have the same likes and dislikes as they did before their diagnosis. For most people living with Alzheimer’s it’s so important to them not to be defined by their condition, rather they should be defined for the person they have always been. They have the same sense of humour, value the same things in life and want to be treated like they always have been. Over time as their condition advances, you will notice changes in their behaviour, they will become more forgetful or possibly distant, but it’s important to focus on the things that make them who they are. For example, if they like jazz music, listen to their favourite songs with them, or if they enjoy gardening, go out and sew some seeds.
- I can live well with Alzheimer's
Staying physically and socially active is really key to ensure the wellbeing of a person living with Alzheimer’s. Seeing people socially and staying involved can prevent someone becoming isolated and depressed. Regular exercise can help to keep them fit, but may also help them to form good sleeping habits so they – and their carers – are more rested. While staying physically and socially active can be beneficial, it’s important not to force it. It’s important to let the person with Alzheimer’s be who they have always been. So, if the person living with Alzheimer’s has always been introverted, the person who’s caring for him will need to balance the benefits of social activity with the fact they may find it quite distressing to suddenly change their social habits.
- Focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t
For people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the focus is usually on what they can’t do rather than what they can do. They may stop being asked to babysit their grandchildren or do the little things like make a cup of tea when there is no good reason. This can feel disempowering, especially if they’re still able to do these things. There will be things that are challenging for a person living with Alzheimer’s, especially as the disease progresses, but it’s important to focus on the things they can do and support them with the things they can’t.
- I can still have meaningful relationships – don’t be shy around me
During the early stages of Alzheimer’s people are still able to communicate as they did before their diagnosis. As the condition progresses, their ability to communicate becomes more difficult. However they can still show emotion and affection, so you’ll still be able to have a laugh together, or share a heart-warming moment. Just make sure you keep your conversation with the person simple: instead of saying ‘would you like to go outside or stay in today’ just say ‘would you like to go outside?
- I still need companionship, even if I don’t remember that you’ve been here
If the person is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, they may not remember you visited them, or know who you are - but in the moment you’re with them, they are able to enjoy your company. From birth, we seek companionship; someone who makes us feel safe and loved; we don’t like to feel lonely. Although the person with Alzheimer’s may forget that they saw you today, that feeling of companionship can stay with them throughout the day.
Bupa adopts a ‘Person First’ approach to caring for people living with dementia that regards them as individuals – in practical terms, this means understanding who they are, their life story, and the reality in which they are living. This allows Bupa to put in place personalised care plans which are tailored to a person’s life experiences and needs.
Bupa is an expert in aged care with around 150 homes and six care villages. With approximately three-quarters of residents living with dementia, we are the leading international provider of specialist dementia care.
For more information about Alzheimer’s and dementia, including what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit the Bupa Dementia Hub
Professor Graham Stokes, Global Director of Dementia Care, has 30 years of experience in specialist dementia care. He led the global-roll out of Bupa’s Person First approach to aged and dementia care in Bupa’s care homes, retirement villages and aged care services. The approach puts the individual and their needs first and highlights the importance of making an emotional connection with residents, as well as tending to their physical care needs.
He has written a number of books and papers including the series ‘Common Problems with the Elderly Confused’; ‘On Being Old: The Psychology of Later Life’; ‘Challenging Behaviour in Dementia’; ‘And Still The Music Plays: Stories of People with Dementia’ and most recently ‘Watching The Leaves Dance. More Stories of People with Dementia’. He co-edited ‘Working with Dementia’ and ‘The Essential Guide to Dementia Care’. He has also written many papers and book chapters on dementia and person-centred care.