Community invited to learn more about dementia in new UCLan lecture

9 March 2023

The talk will cover how carers, family and friends can best support their patients and loved one living with dementia.

A special, free-of-charge public lecture is set to be held at the University of Central Lancashire’s Preston Campus next week, with the aim of exploring how best to understand and support those living with dementia.

The talk on Thursday 16 March is open to all, and will be given by Michael Smith, a lecturer in mental health nursing and practice at UCLan. Before turning to teaching, Mike spent many years as a nurse caring for patients with a dementia diagnosis – including having worked for the Memory Assessment Services in Lancashire, which aims to comprehensively assess anyone of any age who might be worried about their memory.

Dementia is not a specific disease, but actually an umbrella term for symptoms that include the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. It’s Alzheimer's disease which is the most common type of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK suggests that a 1 in 3 people born in the UK this year will develop dementia in their lifetime; and yet there are still many misconceptions about what it means to live with dementia. That is why Mike wants to speak to the local community; he wants to give people – particularly carers – a better insight into what a person with dementia might be experiencing, and some tools for managing and coping with their behaviour. He also wants people to understand that it is possible to ‘live well’ with dementia; many people live for many years after receiving a diagnosis, and he’d like to help people make those years as good as possible.

"Unfortunately, in a hypercognitive society, where change is rapid and we need to recall lots of details – like passwords and pin codes – to make life run smoothly, dementia is an incredibly debilitating condition."

Mike Smith, UCLan lecturer in Mental Health Nursing

Mike explains: “In trying to understand what dementia does to the brain, I think the analogy of a bookcase is really helpful. Think about your earliest memories as filling the bottom shelves, and your most recent memories occupying the higher shelves – with what you did yesterday or last week right on the top shelf. In someone suffering from dementia, the book case becomes wobbly, and those most recent memories on the top shelf fall off first – which is why many patients remember things from many years ago, often right back to their childhoods, but struggle with more recent history.

"Unfortunately, in a hypercognitive society, where change is rapid and we need to recall lots of details – like passwords and pin codes – to make life run smoothly, dementia is an incredibly debilitating condition.”

Mike says that while every patient is different, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, there are some principles that can help carers, family and loved ones to support someone with dementia: “Once you understand where a person’s mind might be, it’s much easier to understand their needs. For example, some retired patients believe they should be getting up and going to work, or those with grown-up children might believe their children are little and need to be picked up from school at 3pm. Knowing what they might be thinking or worrying about means you can talk to them with much more empathy and understanding.”

And it’s not just understanding, Mike adds, that’s really important: “Communication is key too – and tips like using shorter sentences, allowing people time to answer questions, narrowing down choices and using visual cues can all be really helpful. If you think about it, even a seemingly simple decision – like what to wear for the day – is informed by lots and lots of different factors; from the weather, to who you might be seeing that day or what kind of activity you’ll be doing. So for a person struggling with the ability to make decisions, deciding what to wear can be very difficult – especially if they have to try and remember what is in their wardrobe as well. So a carer narrowing down the options for them and holding up clothes visually can really help make that task much easier. It’s little things like that that I hope I can help carers – or indeed anyone who knows someone with dementia - think about and apply in their day-to-day roles and lives.”

The lecture, which is an hour long, begins at 6pm, and will be held in the Greenbank lecture theatre (Greenbank Building, Victoria Street, Preston). Please reserve your space here: you can join either in person or online – just choose the relevant ticket type when booking, and either online or in-person joining details will be emailed to you closer to the date.