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Actress and mother of Emma Thompson reveals unique challenges of caring for someone with dementia

15-Dec-15
Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

Actress and mother of Emma and Sophie Thompson, Phyllida Law, has spoken of the challenges she faced when caring for her mother with dementia.

Ms Law, who spoke out to publicise a report by Alzheimer's Research UK into the impact of dementia on families, looked after her mother Meg for many years while she was living with dementia.

Caring for someone with dementia can be 'very hard'

She found that "night time was particularly difficult: at dusk my mother would often think she was in the wrong house, or she would call for breakfast in the middle of the night, not knowing what time it was. When you’re worn out because you haven’t slept, you can be in danger of losing your temper, and that’s very hard.

"I wasn’t as isolated as some people, and I was lucky because I had help from the people in my mother’s village and from my two daughters [Emma Thompson and Sophie Thompson], who also helped me financially. But caring for Ma, you couldn’t leave the house without taking her with you, so you did feel very stuck a lot of the time.

“A treatment that could help people like my mother would be unimaginable. It’s extraordinary to think of the advances that have been made for diseases like cancer, and it would be wonderful to see that for dementia.”

There are currently more than 850,000 people living in UK with dementia and many of these are supported and care for by 700,000 friends and family members.

The report titled: ‘Dementia in the Family: impact on carers’ contains the result of a poll revealing the realities of caring for a loved one and details how providing full-time care can affect daily life.

In a recent YouGov survey, commissioned by Alzheimer’s Research UK, it was revealed that almost one third of non-retired people aged 55 and over, are worried that their family will have to provide care for them in later life.

The report details the hidden costs of caring for someone living with dementia, including the impact on both the physical and mental health of a carer, as well as their personal relationships with others.

It contains in-depth case studies revealing how dementia can change the relationships in a family, affect the health and finances of family members and leave people feeling isolated. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of research to help provide new treatments to reduce care needs for people living with dementia.

Dementia is leaving people socially isolated and struggling financially

Chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, Hilary Evans, commented: “For many people, the festive season is a time to think about family, but for countless families across the UK dementia is taking a heavy toll, leaving people socially isolated and struggling financially. The experiences highlighted in this report will be recognised by people up and down the country who are dealing with the challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia.

“A diagnosis of dementia ripples far beyond the person affected, it touches whole families, and we owe it to them to do all we can to tackle it. Across the UK over 700,000 people are caring for someone with dementia, but it’s estimated that if we could delay the onset of dementia by five years, by 2050 we could reduce the number of carers by a third. Research has the power to bring about new treatments and preventions that could transform lives, but to reach that goal we must invest in research now.”

Phyllida Law talks about the challenges of caring for her mum who had dementia

Dementia in the Family, contains experiences shared by some of the 700,000 people who provide care for a loved one with dementia and highlights that despite the challenging role they play as carer, they do still find it rewarding.

They spoke about how dementia has affected the relationships they have with their families and how it can create tensions and challenges between how they interact with the person with dementia. The carers interviewed said that although they experienced high levels of stress and associated financial implications, the role had led to them strengthening bonds between them and their loved one.

’Thousands of carers are reaching crisis point and are in desperate need of support’

Commenting on the report, head of policy at Alzheimer's Society, George McNamara, added: “Increasingly, families are stepping in to provide care for people with dementia which was once provided by the state. Their dedication saves the UK around £11.6 billion every year – without them our health and social care system would cease to function.

“This report helps to bring carers' needs and the challenges they face into focus. However, we also need to ensure that tailored advice, information and support are ready and waiting for them. Alzheimer's Society is calling for everyone who cares for someone with dementia to have a full carer's assessment from their local authority and access to a Dementia Adviser.

“Caring for someone living with dementia is unlike caring for a person with any other condition, often at great personal cost. Thousands of carers are reaching crisis point and are in desperate need of support. The Government has a clear obligation to respond.”

Read the full report, here.

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