For Keith and Anne Sandford, acceptance and keeping a positive attitude are key in coping with Keith’s dementia. Dementia often affects the part of the brain which controls memory, which is why memory loss is one of the first symptoms. This loss of short term memory can potentially have a big impact on day to day living, sometimes limiting what a person can do.
Keith received a diagnosis of dementia after a rough patch of feeling like he was going crazy. After undergoing a raft of tests, specialists told him it was dementia. “In a funny way, the diagnosis was a relief. It didn’t worry me, because I finally knew what was wrong with me. I dealt with it, and so we carry on.”
Part of that carrying on is taking advantage of the support groups which are available through Alzheimer’s Northland. One such group is the Narnia Group, which meets every Monday morning at the Riverside Café. This gives people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their partners a chance to meet others in the same boat.
They also attend regular dinners for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia which are designed to help everyone with accepting and dealing with the implications of a diagnosis. Reaching out to others with dementia is something Keith and Anne say are vital to living with the condition. Keith has seen a number of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia isolate themselves from others because they felt ashamed of their condition.
For Keith, his diagnosis was like a light bulb being switched on. As he talked with specialists and learned more about dementia, he recognised that he could trace early signs of dementia right back to when he was 12. He suffered panic attacks as a child, and experienced numerous nightmares almost every night. He also tended to be very shy and nervous, preferring to keep to himself.
Recent research has found that there is a link between long-term depression, anxiety and dementia and Alzheimer’s. Doctors such as Dr Dave Jenkins have developed programs to help manage the condition more effectively, with the aim of reversing early onset Alzheimer’s, which gives hope to many.
Keith knew from experience that fighting against his condition was the wrong thing to do for him. For a number of years he struggled with agoraphobia and formed a group to help other people also suffering with the condition. He could see that much of the advice his fellow agoraphobics had received wasn’t working for them, so he found a way forward which did work. “The secret was not to fight it, to do what you were comfortable with. Forcing the issue and doing too much made it worse.”
Taking the same approach with dementia is working well for Keith. He takes each day at a time, only doing what he feels comfortable with that day. This prevents him from experiencing undue stress, which can make exacerbate the symptoms of dementia. Keith has accepted his limitations and focuses on the things he can do rather than what he can’t.
Sharing this approach with others is also something he feels good about as he knows how isolating dementia can be. Keith enjoys helping others accept their condition and encourages them to enjoy the little things.
Although Keith struggles with his short-term memory, there’s nothing wrong with his ability to recall events from his past. He has many wonderful moments in his life to remember and share, and instead of dwelling on the negatives, he likes nothing better than taking time to reminisce.
Keith’s message to everyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s is a positive one – focus on the good things in life, do what you can do and have a good laugh!