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Understanding dementia and its impact on families – Askham

by: Claire Askham, head of mortgage sales at Buckinghamshire Building Society
  • 20/05/2024
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Understanding dementia and its impact on families – Askham
We all have a degree of understanding of what dementia entails. In fact, as people around the world are living longer and dementia threatens to impact a growing proportion of society, the condition is getting more attention than ever.

There have even been high-profile movies made in recent years with dementia as the key theme – Anthony Hopkins in The Father and Julianne Moore in Still Alice both heartbreakingly portray the impact this distressing syndrome can have on individuals and their families. But what exactly is it? 

Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of diseases that affect memory, thinking and, subsequently, the ability to carry out daily activities. Symptoms tend to manifest in people aged 65 and over, although more than 40,000 people under 65 are thought to have dementia in the UK. The most common of the range of diseases is Alzheimer’s, which affects around 70% of people with dementia.

While there is a lot of research going on in this area, seeking early testing methods and medical treatments, at the moment there is no ‘cure’ for dementia – those affected and their families must live with the effects as best they can. 

Around 944,000 people in the UK are believed to have dementia, and, short of a miracle cure, that figure is set to rise to over one million by 2030 – and to keep rising as our population ages. Caring responsibilities for those living with dementia tend to fall on partners, often elderly themselves, and/or working-age offspring.

Helping to care for a parent or relative with dementia while holding down a demanding job can be a real challenge in terms of time, energy, emotional load, stress and plain old logistics. Having a supportive employer is incredibly helpful, as I have experienced. 

 

My family’s experience with dementia 

My mum is 85 and has been suffering from dementia for around six years. The condition manifests in many ways.

Her short-term memory is very poor. She calls me many times every day and we have the same conversation, because she forgets she has already called. She doesn’t sleep much and can’t be persuaded to eat much, takes no interest in anything – so sad as she was a keen gardener – and won’t leave the house unless strictly necessary for a medical appointment.

She is aware that she is not well, but puts on a brave face – whenever I ask how she is, Mum says the same thing: “I’m okay, but I just can’t shake this off”. She does not realise that she is never going to shake this off. 

Fortunately, my mum lives in her own home and is looked after by both my dad and my brother, who lives with them and has taken a year out of work to care for Mum. Unfortunately, but inevitably, the situation is impacting my dad’s health – he’s 87 – and my brother’s income and, potentially, future job prospects. I visit all the time and help as much as I can, but can’t help feeling both horribly guilty that I’m not there all the time and sometimes jealous that my brother gets those special moments like tucking Mum up in bed at night.

The situation is practically challenging and emotionally difficult for the whole family.

There are positives – we do still manage to laugh with Mum, and I now have a puppy, Brody, whose presence she really enjoys. 

My employer, Buckinghamshire Building Society, has been very understanding about my situation, and my colleagues and management have been super supportive. My role allows me to work from home, or even from Mum and Dad’s house when necessary, and work has been very flexible when it comes to me taking time out to accompany Mum to appointments. Having compassionate co-workers who are willing to listen when I need to talk about the situation is incredibly helpful and I really appreciate their support. 

 

How employers can help 

As an employer, you may not even be aware that some of your staff are caring for family members with dementia, so opening up a conversation can be a good starting point. In fact, one in 10 people in the UK is a carer of some kind. It can be very helpful if employers set up a face-to-face or virtual carers’ forum or support group, and give colleagues time to attend for mutual support and information sharing.

This kind of support can relieve some of the stress felt by carers, and from a practical viewpoint, it can boost productivity and improve employees’ commitment to their organisation. 

When it comes to dementia, demographics dictate that the number of people and their families affected will only grow. Our working communities need to recognise this trend, understand the issues and help one another through the challenges of caring for loved ones impacted by this distressing condition. 

 

For more information and ideas, visit: 

What is dementia? – Dementia UK 

Help & Info – Employers Support for Carers | Carers Trust 

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