Is it the cruellest disease of all? In some ways, you could say that it is. It’s not painful or disfiguring, but dementia can take a loved one away before they actually die. They forget their friends and family, lose all memory of who they are and where they came from. In the end, they can seem like just the shell of their former self.
With an ageing population, dementia is becoming more and more common. Doctors understand its causes much better than they used to, but we’re still a long way from finding a cure. However, the more we know, the more we can plan to lessen the harm done by dementia. It’s bad enough for a family as they watch a loved one descend into lost memory and helplessness, but the problems don’t always stop when the loved one passes away.
Their affairs may be in a tangle of confusion, from neglected bank accounts to forgotten funerals. The loved one may have arranged a funeral plan when they were in good health, but then, as dementia overtook them, they may have mislaid the details or started to miss payments. Their grieving family, expecting to find all the arrangements in place for a dignified and fitting funeral, may have to make rushed arrangements for a new funeral or find themselves in dispute with the funeral provider.
It’s not a situation that anyone would want to find themselves in, but the chances of it are increasing every year. The Alzheimer’s Society, which exists to fund research into one of the most common forms of dementia and to provide care and support for those affected the disease, has estimated that more than a million people will be living with dementia in less than a decade. Each of those people will have a family and friends, so dementia will become part of millions of lives. More and more people will see a loved one pass away with dementia and then discover problems with the funeral plan that they thought was ready and waiting to ensure a trouble-free farewell.
How can families avoid these problems? By bearing them in mind and being ready to plan ahead. There are often warning signs of dementia, when a parent or grandparents begins to show signs of forgetfulness and inability to cope with the everyday demands of life. That’s the time to start planning for problems. Does the parent or grandparent keep important documents in a safe place? Can they provide copies to their family as a back-up? If they have a funeral plan, are they keeping up with the payments and ensuring that they notify the funeral-plan provider of any change of address? And so on.
Discussing these things isn’t always easy, but forewarned is forearmed: by facing future difficulties now, we can ensure that they are much less harmful when they do strike. Or we can avoid them altogether. In any case, dementia isn’t inevitable and isn’t always devastating when it does arrive. The sufferer may not actually suffer, but even become happier as they forget their cares. Not all memories are good ones. And as the condition becomes more common, there’s more and more incentive for medical researchers to find a cure and improve the treatments that are already available.