Dementia – A useful guide and how Amba has been designed to help those with dementia
The Alzheimer’s Society along with regional dementia partnerships have published information, advice and support for people with dementia and memory problems. The following contains extracts from the Dementia Guide that is freely available to anyone and that we hope is helpful. Contributions are included from Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, NHS Foundation Trust, the Dementia Support Group and many others.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms caused by damage to the brain. The symptoms include decline in memory or brain function, mood changes and confusion. Dementia can be transient, when caused by a treatable illness such as malnutrition or fever. Most dementia types are not treatable and are chronic and progressive. The main types of chronic dementia are:
- Alzheimer’s disease: this is the most common form of dementia and is caused by small clumps of protein, known as plaques, that begin to develop around brain cells. This disrupts the normal workings of the brain. Typical symptoms are; memory loss, confusion, difficulty communicating, anxiety, paranoia
- Vascular dementia: caused by bleeding on the brain, from a stroke or head injury. Problems with blood circulation result in parts of the brain not receiving enough blood and oxygen. Typical symptoms are memory loss, impaired judgement, decreased ability to plan, loss of motivation
- Dementia with Lewy bodies: abnormal structures, known as Lewy bodies, develop inside the brain. Symptoms include, memory loss, sleep problems, frequent swings in alertness, hallucinations
- Fronto-temporal dementia: the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain begin to shrink. Unlike other types of dementia, fronto-temporal dementia develops most often in people under the age of 65. Marked by changes in behaviour, such as decreased inhibition, decreased empathy, compulsive or repetitive behaviours, depression and apathy
Dementia mainly affects people who are older, and the numbers of people with dementia is forecast to grow from the current (800,000 + in England) as people live longer, but younger people can sometimes develop dementia – this is referred to as early onset dementia. There are believed to be equally as many dementia cases that go unreported however.
Who can get dementia?
Anyone can develop dementia – it is not restricted to sex, age, gender, ethnicity or background. However, some groups are statistically more likely to develop it. For example, women are more likely to develop it than men. People with learning disabilities may carry a higher genetic risk of developing it. Also, people from black and minority ethnic populations have higher rates of early onset dementia than other groups.
What affects the development of dementia?
Anyone can develop dementia, but some factors appear to contribute to whether we develop the disease:
Age: you are more likely to develop dementia when you get older, especially if you have high blood pressure or have a higher risk of other genetic diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
Genetics: genetics are known to play some role in the development of dementia, but the effects vary considerably.
Medical history: having current conditions or having experienced certain conditions in the past may make us more likely to develop dementia – such as Multiple Sclerosis, Down’s Syndrome, diabetes, HIV and metabolic syndrome.
General lifestyle: a poor diet, a lack of exercise and excessive alcohol or drug consumption can all increase the chances of developing the disease.
Just about any condition that causes damage to the brain or nerve cells can cause dementia. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease will often exhibit dementia in the later stages of their illness. Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease and alcoholism can all (currently) lead to irreversible cognitive impairment.
Whilst some types of dementia are curable, such as those caused by fever from treatable infection or from malnutrition, which can also be treated, most dementia is not treatable. Untreatable dementia is a result of chronic illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease etc, for which there is currently no cure, although with treatment and support many people who are living with it lead active, fulfilling lives.
Help and Support
Looking after yourself is important including things like:
- Healthy diet
- Reducing smoking and alcohol intake
- Staying mentally and physically active for as long as possible
- Talking about concerns and symptoms with family or specialist services and
- Keeping in touch
- Keeping a diary or calendar
- Make a list of important things you need to do
- Put a collage of photos of people important to you with name
The Alzheimers Society (www.alzheimers.org.uk) are a reliable resource for current information on dementia.
A person with dementia may find communication harder – not being able to find the correct word, or losing attention in conversations. They advise that when communicating with a person with dementia that:
- you maintain eye contact which helps the person with dementia to stay engaged in conversation
- you recognise that the person with dementia may use more body language in the absence of being able to find the correct words or phrases, and will also be receptive to being communicated back with body language
- maintaining a sense of independence and being supported to do things for themselves increases the person’s wellbeing and helps maintain their dignity, confidence and self-esteem, rather than making them feel helpless or worthless
- practical strategies, such as setting up reminders or prompts are recommended to support the person with dementia
- social strategies, such as increasing and improving quality of family contact, and joining hobby or interest groups will bring wellbeing and reduce isolation and withdrawal, which can lead to depression and increased anxiety
- emotional strategies, such as using humour, sharing positive experiences and focusing on ‘enjoying the now’
Amba and the Amba system
Amba has been designed for people in the early stages of chronic dementia and takes on board the above advice:
Whilst dementia can affect anyone at any age it is not unusual for elderly people living independently in their own homes to be most at risk. Often, their now much needed support network may have diminished, as friends and family move away and some friends have passed.
With 5 of the founding members having an elderly relative living with dementia, Amba Limited was founded to address the issues of having loved ones living independently and with dementia. The collective experience is that our loved ones with dementia are not ready to move to residential care and wish to remain in their own homes in familiar and comfortable surroundings for as long as possible. Also, often they are not particularly ‘tech savvy’ if at all, so cannot benefit from the increased connectivity younger generations are accustomed to. As the dementia has progressed in our relatives, it became clear they were becoming more isolated and their quality of life was diminishing as they felt more lonely, anxious and depressed.
It is for this reason that we designed Amba as a solution for our parents and for other families that need to stay in touch with their elderly relatives living alone with dementia and in a manner that takes into account the particular needs of those living with dementia.
How the Amba features have been designed to help those with dementia
The Amba product has been designed solely for those living with dementia and has purposeful limitations within the Amba aimed at alleviating any potential stress or anxiety by the elderly dementia user whilst enabling them to maintain some element of control. Amba encourages increased communication with family and friends, to create a ‘Care Network ‘around the User.
- The technophobic user and the holder – It is envisaged that many users will be over 70 years of age and many will have had little exposure to computers and may well be afraid of ‘things they do not understand’. This is particularly so with elderly people with dementia. Consequently, the Amba device has been placed in a special holder that looks more like a small television screen than a computer tablet.
- Hard of hearing – A small cubed speaker is installed in the front of the holder to enable higher volumes for enhanced communication for all Users, as well as those with hearing impairments.
- No internet access – Whilst the system uses the internet to communicate between families and carers, this is within a closed system that is totally secured and with no direct access to the internet. The Amba cannot be used to ‘Google’, browse the internet, send or receive emails. Therefore, the User will not be subject to any unwanted pop-ups, adverts or spam and may be unaware that the internet is being used for their communications.
- There is no keyboard – People with Dementia often get confused, and may have reduced co-ordination or find task sequencing a problem. The Amba uses visual icons and short-route, ’one-touch’ guided functions.
- There is a simple display of day, date, time and weather as people with dementia find this information helpful.
- There is a dimming feature for night times, and a ‘moon’ symbol after sundown
- The font size is large to make it easy to read.
- Family members use apps from their own smart phones or laptops to send messages to the User. The User cannot type sentences back but can select one of 12 icons, each depicting a response message; such as Yes/No/Call Me/etc.
- There is a photo album collection, accessible to the User by two simple, guided touches, easily managed remotely by Care Network Members.
- The overall purposeful limitations of the system are designed to necessitate the families to call the User and to talk to them using the Video Call facility, thereby creating the opportunity for the family member or carer to support the dementia relative in the organisation of their day.
- There is a calendar and appointment making facility that prompts the User with reminders of their daily tasks, such as to when to take their medication, when to watch their favourite programmes etc. It also prompts them to keep scheduled appointments such as medical or social events. Again, the purposeful limitations are designed to encourage video calling to ensure that regular contact and support is maintained.
Dementia is not consistent and will affect everyone in different ways. Amba has been designed to help improve communication and organisation, to help reduce anxiety, maintain a sense of independence and bring some joy – through multimedia communication – back into the User’s life.
We sincerely hope that Amba will enable your loved one to live a longer period in their own homes and enable them and you to stay in touch with each other, as it is helping ours.
Further general information is available from The Alzheimer’s Society national dementia helpline that has trained advisers ready to discuss your concerns from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm at the weekend. Tel: 0800 222 11 22. www.alzheimers.org.uk/memory worry
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To learn more about how the Amba system can help you and your family please fill in the form below and we will arrange a personal in home demonstration with confirmation by email and text message.