Kirsty Yanik Discussing dementia needn’t be scary

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It would have been a very difficult decision for Timothy West to speak openly about Prunella Scales having a “mild sort of Alzheimer’s”.

It’s a topic that frightens people. It’s frightening to think you might have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, frightening to think that someone close to you has it. That’s understandable. It is frightening too to think about telling other people – but it shouldn’t be. There shouldn’t be a stigma around this illness, which affects 88,000 people in Scotland and around 7700 in Edinburgh. Nobody should have to face dementia alone.

Edinburgh City Council and NHS Lothian are running a Recognise the Signs public awareness campaign to encourage people to seek help. You might have seen the posters on bus shelters or in your library. If you’re worried about your memory, or the memory of someone close to you, it’s important to contact the GP. Memory problems can be caused by a number of health issues and it’s important to find out the cause. If it is dementia, then support is available once it has been diagnosed.

For the first time ever people in Scotland newly diagnosed with dementia are now entitled to a year’s support form a named link worker. Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy includes this as a target for every health board in Scotland.

Alzheimer Scotland is working with Edinburgh City Council and NHS Lothian and we have recently received funding from the Reshaping Care of Older People Change Fund to appoint six link workers to make sure the city meets this Scottish Government target. They join our existing link workers in West Lothian and Midlothian.

Having a link worker means that people diagnosed and their partners and families will have support to help them live well with the diagnosis. The link worker will work with them flexibly across the year to help them to:

• come to terms with dementia, understand the illness and manage its symptoms;

• support and maintain their community connections, so they don’t become isolated by their diagnosis;

• plan for future decision making, such as setting up powers of attorney and other legal matters;

• plan for their future care needs and set out how they would like to be supported and cared for as the illness progresses;

• get in touch with other people with the illness and their families, for peer support.

This help can only be accessed if a diagnosis of dementia has been made. If you are not sure about speaking to your GP, or need more information, please contact the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Helpline on 0808 808 3000. It’s free to call, confidential, and runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our website – www.alzscot.org – also has lots of useful information.

• Kirsty Yanik works for Alzheimer Scotland