Dementia is a degenerative brain disease often seen in the elderly and affecting 1 in 4 people by the age of 80. It starts at an earlier age in people with Learning Disabilities, Autism and Down’s Syndrome. The common symptoms in this early stage are of forgetfulness, confusion, wandering and sleep reversal. As the disease progresses the individuals develop swallowing difficulties, weight loss, incontinence, difficulty with day to day tasks and personality changes. There are many types of dementia e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia, Lowy Body Dementia, Fronto-Temporal Dementia, Picks Disease, Creutzfeldt Jakob and so on, the most common type being Alzheimer’s disease.
Diagnosing dementia, and which type of dementia someone has, is important. It will ensure that people with dementia can get the right support, treatments and plan for the future. The most commonly used memory test is called the MMSE (mini mental state examination), although there is a range of other tests available. Doctors also arrange for blood tests and brain scans to fully understand what’s happening.
Diagnosis in people who have an underlying Learning Disability, Autism or Down’s Syndrome poses challenge to the professionals. The diagnosis may not be easy because
1. Presentation is similar in dementia and underlying conditions
2. Most patients find it difficult to explain their symptoms and
3. Sometimes relatives are not present to describe the full picture. The standard assessment tests cannot be used easily in Learning Disabilities.
A commonly used alternative test is called the DLD (Dementia in Learning Disability).
The support of our service users with dementia is similar to other people without learning disability in many ways e.g. medication, behaviour management plan using principles of Positive Behaviour Support, psychotherapy (reality orientation, reminiscence, cognitive stimulation), activities and personal support.