Dementia – would you recognise it?

AlzheimersMarina Harris outlines the core principles of supporting patients with dementia.

With the help of science, medicine and education we are now a population that is living longer. Although science, medicine and education have had a tremendous impact of providing longevity to many groups or individuals that historically would not have survived to a ripe old age, science and medicine have yet to provide the solution whereby the brain can keep up with the body.

According to the Department of Health, dementia is one of the most important issues we face as the population ages. Moreover, the Government has set out a strategy with the aim that health or social care providers, amongst others, will have better awareness of dementia, which could lead to an early diagnosis and therefore high quality treatment and support.

Core principles

An excellent publication to download from Department of Health is Common core principles for supporting people with dementia, which outlines eight principles that should be embedded in our culture of provision of healthcare, policies and practices:

Principle one: know the early signs of dementia

Principle two: early diagnosis of dementia helps people receive information, support and treatment at the earliest possible stage

Principle three: communicate sensitively to support meaningful interaction

Principle four: promote independence and encourage activity

Principle five: recognise the signs of distress resulting from confusion and respond by diffusing a person’s anxiety and supporting their understanding of the events they experience

Principle six: family members and other carers are valued, respected and supported just like those they care for and are helped to gain access to dementia care advice

Principle seven: managers need to take responsibility to ensure members of their team are trained and well supported to meet the needs of people with dementia

Principle eight: work as part of a multi-agency team to support the person with dementia.

Spotting the signs

So what has this got to do with us? As clinicians in dental practice we often have the benefit of treating people over a long period of time – often many years.

We may be the first to notice changes in behaviour such as the patient starting to forget appointments when they have previously always been a regular attender, or perhaps starting to look a little dishevelled when they have previously presented neat and tidy.

In a nutshell, watch out for any small changes in behaviour that are out of the norm. There is ample evidence to show that early recognition and diagnosis of dementia has a vast increase on the quality of life of the sufferer and the family. We are in a unique position to spot the early signs and it is our duty of care to recognise it when we see it.

This article was first published on 6 March 2015 by Oral B, and was taken from the Hygienist Hub section of

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