It is estimated that around 90,000 people in Scotland are currently living with dementia and it is Scotland’s biggest public health issue.

Dementia doesn’t just affect older people. It is estimated that approximately 3,500 people in Scotland under the age of 65 have some form of dementia. This is known as young onset dementia. The chance of developing dementia increases with age. One in 14 people over 65 – and one in six people over 80 – has dementia. Dementia is more common among women than men.

Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. It is caused by progressive disease processes of the brain such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular dementia. There are over 100 types of disease processes which cause dementia.  Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common and around six people out every ten living with dementia have Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Herald has partnered with Alzheimer Scotland to launch a campaign aimed at ending the disparity in care costs between those footing the bill for specialist dementia nursing care and those suffering from other terminal illnesses.

If you or someone you know is struggling with dementia, worried about the symptoms or is simply looking for more information on living with the condition, read below for our guide on how to start a conversation about the illness

READ MORE: What is fair dementia care?

Many people worry about their memory, particularly as they get older. People become more concerned that forgetfulness could be a sign of something like dementia. However, it is important not to jump to conclusions. Confusion or forgetfulness does not mean someone has dementia; nor is dementia an inevitable part of growing older. Many other conditions, such as infections, depression or the side effects of medicines can cause similar problems.

Early conversations about signs which might indicate dementia are often difficult as the person’s reaction to your first raising the topic can be unpredictable. There may be relief at being able to talk to someone about their worries, however there could also be a refusal to discuss, anger, distress or a denial of any change.

What are the signs of dementia?

Changes in dementia are often subtle at first and may be experienced as differences in your relationship rather than obvious features of an illness. 

Examples of changes may include:

  • Changes in behaviour and ‘out of character’ responses to situations.
  • Loss of interest in regular activities.
  • A loss in confidence or ability in areas that previously posed no difficulty.
  • Difficulty in planning or ability to make decisions.
  • Confusion over seemingly easy day-to-day tasks, such as cooking and handling of money.
  • Difficulty in finding the correct words or holding a conversation.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these changes it is important to speak to your GP as early as possible. 

Your GP can help rule out other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to dementia and that may be treatable. Your GP may also refer you to a memory clinic or a specialist to better understand what is happening.

How do I start talking about dementia?

Thinking that you or someone close to you might be developing dementia can be an extremely worrying and anxious time. It can be difficult to speak about and express worries with a person. People can be frightened about dementia and what the illness may bring. To some extent there remains a stigma and negative perceptions of people with dementia across society. 

The perception may be that there is little or no help available following a diagnosis and that may be the reason that prevents people from seeking help sooner rather than later. The negative perceptions also create fear and worry for the future meaning that many families avoid talking about dementia.

There is no set approach to having these conversations but the following considerations may be helpful:

  • Try to find a time when you’re both in a relaxed, mutually comfortable environment and not already feeling tired or stressed.
  • Allow time for the conversation, it shouldn’t be rushed.
  • If possible, spend time before the conversation thinking about what you want to say.
  • The person you’re speaking with may be feeling anxious or vulnerable, so the conversation should be as informal as possible and avoid any element of confrontation.
  • You may want to explore with the person how they’re feeling about their health before mentioning concerns. They may already be aware of symptoms and changes in themselves but are not quite ready to share these. Give them time to talk about how they feel.
  • It may be beneficial to focus on the symptoms instead of assumptions about the causes or potential diagnosis, unless anything specific is raised by the person concerned.
  • Think about how you would feel if it were you, try to be sensitive as to how the person themselves may be feeling.

READ MORE: What is Dementia and how do I access support?

It might take more than one conversation to address the concerns you have around your friend or family member and the possibility they may have dementia but Alzheimer Scotland can help you to overcome those initial anxious feelings. With the right guidance you can be empowered and supported to have a conversation when you are worried about dementia. There isn’t one approach that is best for everyone, and there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to discuss your concerns.

Alzheimer Scotland provides a range of support which can begin prior to a potential diagnosis of dementia. For more information and for emotional support call Alzheimer Scotland’s 24 hour Freephone Dementia Helpline (0808 808 3000) is free to call and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.