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Signs and symptoms of dementia

Dementia is a progressive disease of the brain and is not a natural part of ageing. It affects everyone differently so no two people with dementia are the same.

There are a number of warning signs to look out for, including:

  • memory loss – forgetting names, places, recent events, or conversations
  • making decisions and solving problems is more difficult
  • difficulty completing everyday tasks
  • feeling confused, even when you are in a place you know
  • trouble understanding images and pictures
  • judging distances and not knowing it is you when you look in a mirror
  • problems with speaking or writing. Finding it hard to follow conversations
  • forgetting or losing things
  • changes in mood or personality – becoming more upset or angry

Recognising the signs and symptoms of dementia in yourself or a loved one could lead to an earlier diagnosis and then you can access dementia support services in Dorset. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of these warning signs, or if you have concerns about dementia, speak to your GP.

Becoming forgetful does not mean that you have dementia, memory loss can be a normal part of ageing or the symptom of a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection (UTI). But if you're at all worried about yourself or someone else becoming forgetful or confused, speak to a GP or a Memory Support Advisor.

The Alzheimer's Society has a quick information guide to dementia.

The Alzheimer's Society also has advice on what to do if you're worried about your memory or worried about someone else's memory.

NHS Choices has information about what to expect when you see your GP about dementia and how a diagnosis is made.

Learning disability

People with a learning disability are at greater risk of developing dementia. It also tends to occur at an earlier age (especially for those with Down's syndrome). The symptoms in the early stages can be different and difficult to spot and can progress more quickly.

For these reasons, it is even more important to get an early diagnosis. If you care for someone with a learning disability and are concerned about signs of memory loss or dementia, contact your GP or Memory Support and Advisory Service.

The Alzheimer's Society has more information about learning disabilities and dementia.

Staying independent

Staying in your own home

Being diagnosed with dementia does not mean you have to lose your independence. There are lots of things you can do to help you live safely in your own home for as long as possible.

Care calls provide a reminder and check-in service. They can also be used for medication and reminders such as locking the doors at night. A call is made to remind someone to take their medication, if they do not respond to the call, someone is informed to respond such as a neighbour, friend, or member of the family. Referrals can be made by the user or family member via the Care calls website or telephone 0330 0588244.

Make your home dementia friendly

Alzheimer's Society has information about how to make your home dementia friendly. Sometimes simple changes to your home environment can make things easier, such as having better lighting and labelling cupboards.

Equipment and adapting your home

Equipment can help you to carry out daily tasks such as washing, dressing and eating.

Technology Enabled Care can help support you or a loved one experiencing memory loss and dementia. Equipment can sense risks such as smoke, floods, gas and there are a number of devices that can help with reminders, and helping you to be independent outside of your home.

The Alzheimer's Society has information and advice if you're not sure what equipment may help you.

Adapting your home may also help you. For example, putting handrails in the bathroom can make it easier to get in and out of the bath.

Alternatively, Contact Us for advice and guidance.

If you can't stay in your own home

We have information on housing options if living at home is not possible.

Eating and drinking

Dementia can make eating and drinking difficult for a number of reasons, including loss of appetite, forgetting to eat and being unable to recognise food. Alzheimer's Society has information and advice on how dementia affects eating and drinking and has practical tips for carers to help support someone to eat and drink well.

Getting help with everyday tasks

Someone who has dementia may forget to visit the toilet or be unable to communicate their needs. Alzheimer's Society has advice on managing toilet problems and incontinence.

Personal care in the home provides options for extra support to help you.

Getting out and about

Many people with dementia continue to drive and travel after being diagnosed. Alzheimer's Society has information about driving, including how to inform the DVLA.

Wessex Driveability can help if you would like an assessment to make sure you're okay to drive and that you are still driving safely.

Alzheimer's Society has free 'helpcards' for people with dementia. These are cards you can carry with you when you're out and can make it easier to get help. They allow you to record your name and contact details, and the details of someone close to you who can be contacted if you need help.

Community transport schemes may help you if you no longer drive and can't use public transport.

Missing persons

Reporting missing persons with dementia is easy with the Herbert Protocol.  The 'Herbert Protocol' gives nationally recognised branding to our original 'Safe and Sound' Initiative. When a person goes missing, it is very distressing for family and friends and can be even more worrying when the missing person has dementia. Documents need to be completed and held by family/carers then handed over to the police if a person goes missing. See the Dorset Police Missing Person with Dementia for more information.

Memory Assessment Service

The Memory Assessment Service provides specialist help for residents of Dorest with a memory problem affecting their daily life. We aim to diagnose the cause, offer treatment and advice, and direct you to other services that can provide support. It is important to all of us to maintain our independence for as long as possible. We want to ensure people living with memory loss are able to lead the kind of life they want to live.

Dorset HealthCare (DHC), NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group, Help & Care and Age UK launched the new Dementia Services pathway from the 1st April 2021.

Following the recent dementia services review, a number of new services will be provided, and existing services will offer increased support for people with dementia as well as their families and carers.

Dementia services include:

  • Memory Assessment Service (DHC) – for the assessment of memory problems and diagnosis of dementia. This will now include dedicated neuropsychology for more complex diagnoses. In addition, this service will offer emotional wellbeing courses for carers.
  • Dementia Coordinator Service (Help & Care) – provides post-diagnostic support for people with a diagnosis of dementia, and their families and carers. This will include a dedicated Early Onset (younger) Dementia provision, as well as Dementia Roadshows offering information on dementia to local people and agencies.
  • Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (Age UK) – an evidence-based therapy for people with a diagnosis of dementia (mild-moderate). Each session aims to actively engage and stimulate participants, whilst also providing the benefits of socialising in a group. If you have a formal diagnosis of mild-moderate dementia then you can refer yourself to the CST service.  Telephone the Age Uk office on 01202530530 or email: CST@ageukbped.org.uk.

All new referrals for an assessment and diagnosis of memory problems (possible dementia) for people aged over 18 will now be made directly to the memory assessment service (MAS). There will be a single point of access (SPOA) for referrals to MAS. 

The MAS SPOA telephone number is 0300 303 5342.

The MAS team comprises registered nurses, occupational therapists, neuropsychologists, non-medical prescribers/advanced nurse practitioners and psychiatrists. All staff will offer a range of possible options to complete assessments and diagnostic work and these will be discussed with you before appointments.

MAS expects that physical checks are completed before referral to rule out any reversible causes of memory problems.

People are seen in a variety of settings including clinics in hospitals, GP surgeries, or at home if there is a reason they are unable to travel to a clinic. We are also able to offer virtual appointments.

The team will complete a thorough assessment of cognition and its effects on functioning. If necessary they will refer for a CT brain scan and in the cases of younger people or more complex presentations, they will request an MRI scan or neuropsychological assessment for a more in-depth assessment. At all points, the GP will receive copies of letters.

The clinical staff are skilled at assessment and there will be a clear plan of care given to the patient in letter form.

The team will refer on to other agencies and liaise with carers/supporters of the patient as needed.

If the individual is prescribed medication we will monitor this and feedback to the GP after three months.

The Dementia information and wellbeing group is a free workshop that is held virtually and face-to-face in small groups. Please let the Memory Assessment Service know which you would prefer and which are you can travel to so they can plan sessions. Ideally, you will need to attend all six weekly sessions. The aim of the workshop is to maintain the wellbeing of the person you care for and yourself and to meet other people in a similar situation, in a supportive and friendly atmosphere. For further information, or to book a place, please contact team administrator, Christine Tilley on 0300 303 5342.

Things to do

Keeping yourself occupied can help you to feel better, keep in touch with others and maintain your everyday skills. Alzheimer's Society has advice on how you can stay involved and active.

You can find details of activities near you in our directory.

Reminiscence groups are held in some libraries and can help you if you like to remember past events and chat with others.

Arts 4 Dementia has details of upcoming arts events and activities across Dorset.

Stepping into Nature run various dementia friendly activities across Dorset, including gentle walks and activities in beautiful natural spaces.

Alzheimer's Society has advice on exercise and physical activity for those with dementia.

Dementia Friendly GP practices are expanding due to the success of the ‘i SPACE initiative’. This initiative encourages GP practices to identify dementia champions, give staff the skills to help people with dementia, work with carers, develop care plans and give ideas for dementia friendly environment. Further information can be found on the Wessex Academic Health Science Network or email enquiries@wessexahsn.org.uk

There are Memory Cafes held regularly across Dorset where people with dementia and their carers can socialise, gain peer support and feel less isolated. For details telephone 0300 1231916 or go to the Alzheimers Society website.

Prama Life Memory Lane Groups are open to all and provide specific support to those living with memory loss or dementia. Each session provides a different them but there is always reminiscing, games, quizzes, music, refreshments and a warm welcome. To find East Dorset Memory Lane Groups go to the Prama Life website.

‘Singing for the Brain’ and ‘Melodiesfor Memory’ groups are available offering singing activities that are therapeutic, good for memory and brain activity and give people a sense of well-being. Telephone 0300 1231916 or go to the Alzheimers Society website.

Peer support groups for younger people with dementia and their carers are held in east and west Dorset which are more informal and more active. In Weymouth, there is a carers support group. For more information go to the Alzheimers Society website.

The Memory Box Project aims to engage, support and share memories with people living with dementia in Hampshire & Dorset. Since February 2016, The Memory Box Project has delivered sessions in hospitals, care homes, day centres and other groups. We are funded by The National Lottery Community Fund which enables us to be able to offer this service free of charge to all of our groups.

Dementia Pen Pals The Memory Box Project's Dementia Pen Pals Scheme is the perfect opportunity for people living with Dementia to interact and connect safely with local children 8-14 years. For more information please contact catherine@wessexheritagtrust.org.

Reading Well Books on prescription can help you to understand and manage your health and wellbeing using self-help reading. The books are available to borrow from your local library.

People living with dementia and their carers can get free access to Musica on Demand online music library. Email admin@musica-music.co.uk to sign up for the music library. 

Financial and legal

Check if you are entitled to any welfare benefits

Make sure you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to.

For information about financial advice read our section on Financial help and advice.

Planning ahead and making decisions

If you have dementia, it's important to plan ahead and think about what will happen if you become unable to make decisions for yourself.

We have advice on mental capacity including how to set up Power of Attorney.

Alzheimer's Society has advice on legal and financial affairs.

You may want to think about making a will if you have not already done so.