LIFESTYLE

Five Things People (Katie Hopkins Included) Need To Know About Dementia

08/04/2015 11:45 BST | Updated 08/04/2015 11:59 BST

Dementia finally got the recognition it deserved following the Oscar-winning success of Still Alice starring Julianne Moore, a story about a professor who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease.

But despite the debilitating health condition being at the forefront of conversation, there's still an air of uncertainty among some people as to what it actually is.

Recently, Katie Hopkins branded dementia sufferers as "bed blockers" in hospitals. She tweeted: “Dementia sufferers should not be blocking beds. What is the point of life when you no longer know you are living it? Bang me over the head.”

still alice

Her controversial tweet was met with disgust and she has since been accused of making "disgraceful" and "ill-informed" remarks about dementia patients by leading charity, Alzheimer's Society.

So what's the deal with dementia?

Simply put, dementia is a term used to describe a set of symptoms which usually include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or speaking. Sufferers may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour.

Scratch beneath the surface, and it's quite a complex condition with varying degrees of severity depending upon the patient.

Here are five other things you need to know about it:

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1) Sufferers have no true understanding of their situation

Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases such as Alzheimer's disease or a series of strokes, says the Alzheimer's Society.

Blogging for HuffPost UK, Paul Marshall writes about his mother: "She, in common with many fellow sufferers, has no idea of her plight. I'm not sure she's ever genuinely known.

"From the very first noticeable stages when she kept on phoning to insist that someone had broken into her home and replaced the knobs on the washing machine to the Christmas shortly afterwards when she spent the whole day playing with invisible cats (quite an Actors Studio performance as it turned out), her grasp on reality quickly loosened, leaving her to live in some kind of permanent fog which never cleared."

2) It takes away the person you love in every aspect

Dawn Cance wrote a powerful blog around the things they don't tell you when you're caring for someone with dementia. Writing about her mother who has Lewy Body dementia.

"They don't tell you how to deal with your previously kind, gentle mother swearing at you and hitting you in the head as you desperately coax her into the shower to try and get rid of the ever-present smell of urine.

"They don't tell you what sort of nappies to buy when she becomes incontinent; let alone how you're supposed to persuade her to wear one, or how to stop her taking it off and stashing it in a pillow case.

"They don't tell you how to persuade her to take her medication when she's screaming that she's going to call the police because you're clearly a member of the Gestapo who's trying to poison her."

3) It is utterly exhausting for friends and family

As Kathy Ritchie, blogger on My Demented Mom puts it: "When you’re in the thick of caregiving, you are the one who is often sidelined. You become a prisoner to your loved one and your home. You don’t have time to reach out, check in and let friends and family know that you’re okay.

"Caregiving is about survival. It’s about getting through the day (and, sometimes, the night). It’s exhausting work."

But it's a basic fact that if a parent or family member develops dementia, you're going to be there for them, blogs Rena McDaniel.

"Think about it, if your child was sick would you CHOOSE to take care of them? It's the same basic fact. They are our loved ones. It doesn't matter what the relationship is the fact remains that they need our love, help and most importantly our support."

4) As a carer, you must and should ask for help

Blogging on the Huffington Post, author Marie Marley writes: "The decision to place a loved one in a care facility can be agonising, but caregivers need to consider the following: 1) Long-term care placement can sometimes be the most loving choice for their loved one and 2) Caring for the loved one is probably seriously affecting their own physical and mental health and well-being.

"People can't be good caregivers if they are exhausted and burned out all the time."

5) People with dementia still deserve a quality of life

"The last two years of my mother's life, I wasn't sure she knew I was her daughter," says Martha Stettinius in a blog post on end of life planning. "She could not speak more than an occasional 'yes' or 'no'. She could not walk, or feed herself. She wore Depends.

"But her smile was stunning; she loved people. And I could tell that she loved me. She seemed to know that I was someone very special to her. If my mother had written an advance directive about withholding nourishment when her quality of life declined to a certain level, how could I have honored her wishes?

"Quality of life is slippery. What would never suffice one day, one year, is more than enough the next. And even a person living with advanced dementia is still 'in there' sometimes, in some moments."

She adds: "A person with dementia can still enjoy simple pleasures--and even share affection with loved ones. Yes, they are no longer the competent person they once were, but does that mean they would really want to leave the earth, to be denied sustenance?"

Early Symptoms of Dementia