Over my years in the spotlight, I've often spoken openly about my experience with dementia - my fathered suffered with the disease during the later years of his life and for many years I worked to look after him before he entered a care home, when in need of more specialist treatment. I know first-hand how heart breaking and frightening it can be to go through the process of seeing an older relative is diagnosed with the condition. As well as not knowing what a diagnosis means, many don't know what to expect - recent research released by Bupa Care Services showed that four in ten wouldn't know how best to support someone with dementia and the same amount would not know what to expect as the disease progressed.
My experiences have meant that as I get older, I feel more and more that taboo subjects such as mortality, dementia and ageing should stop being swept under the carpet. When an older loved one is diagnosed with dementia, we need to teach people how not to be afraid. For example, there are ways that you can best cope when a sufferer is confused, or know what symptoms to look out for. The more an individual understands and more they know, they more they can bring to a dementia sufferer, and can also understand that the sufferer can bring something to them too.
This is one of the reasons why I have partnered with Bupa to create a series of online videos, explaining what dementia is, what to expect and how best to preserve relationships. The information that I was told, and have now looked to share, was so important in helping me to understand the many aspects of dementia, and answered the questions that wish I'd had the answers to when I was trying to cope with and understand my father's illness. For instance when he became argumentative, don't argue back find a way to change the subject to calm things down.
On wider plane, I feel it is important that we work to understand and become familiar with which aspects of ageing frighten us, in order to best build relationships in general with older members of society. I know how many young people fear the old or don't have the patience to interact with the elderly. Yet you see in so many different cultures outside the UK that age is celebrated. Every member of the family is considered to be equally important and older family members are treated with additional respect. In the UK we need to start bridging the gap and find our way to a similar attitude.
We live in a society that is in love with youth, this isn't a bad thing as the young are our future. But we need to fall in love with old age too, and try to gain understanding of some of the conditions which may occur in old age, rather than bury our heads in the sand an avoid spending time with the elderly all together, because we a frightened of what we don't understand. Dementia is far from being an inevitable consequence of old age, but by understanding a condition, which is perhaps, one of those we're most scared of, we can look to celebrate old age more, and be scared of it less.
Understanding is a great gift and one we all need to have.
To view Arlene's videos and for more support and advice, visit: www.bupa.co.ukunderstanddementia