Dementia is a long-term disorder of mental processes which may be caused by brain disease or injury. It is characterised by problems with memory, personality changes and impairment in the ability to reason. Over half a million people in the UK have been diagnosed with dementia and this is expected to increase to over one million people by 2020 and reach two million by 2050.
The medical model of dementia focuses on the brain diseases which can cause dementia and studies the neurological and chemical changes in the brain itself. This medical approach has led to the development of drug interventions for patients and may one day mean that dementia can be prevented or even cured.
However, following the medical model can mean that decisions about treatment may be made for you by other people, such as medical professionals. These decisions may be made with the best intentions, but with this model you may feel that you have little control or power and are left with few choices. You may find yourself feeling excluded as the focus is on the chemicals in your brain not on your overall life and independence.
Alternatively, the social model of dementia focuses on the ways in which dementia affects your personal and social capabilities. Changes in these capabilities are only perceived as disabilities when the environment around you is not adapted to meet your changing needs. Following the social model of dementia takes a more holistic view of the disease and puts a patient's lifestyle and independence at the centre of their care.
You are likely to feel more in control when the focus is on adapting your environment to enable you to live as normally as possible, rather than focusing on chemical processes within your brain. That is not to say that medication is not important or that we should stop looking to improve pharmacological treatments, but there is much which can be done to improve your quality of life in addition to taking drugs.
There are many ways in which your environment can be adapted and arranged to enable you to continue to be as independent as possible. You may be fearful that as your dementia progresses you will have no option other than to live in a nursing home or care home. However, by focusing on adapting your environment to suit your changing capabilities, rather than just on chemically treating your brain, you are likely to be able to maintain your independence for longer.
There are a wide range of professionals who can help support you to make changes to your environment. These may involve home care form a specialist such as Guardian Carers, where a carer visits you in your own home to make sure that some aspects of care which you may struggle with are carried out for you. Alternatively, if you need round the clock support to make sure your environment meets your needs then it is possible to arrange for a carer to live in.