The text of the talk given by Mary Tilki on dementia during the masses of Sunday 19th May.

Dementia Awareness Week  May 19th – 25th

“It’s time to talk about dementia”

Because we are all living longer, society is facing increasing numbers of people with dementia. It is estimated that there are about 800, 000 people with dementia in Britain and that this will rise to I million by 2025.  It affects about one in a hundred people in the 65-69 age band, one in 25 in the 70-79 and about one in six over 80.  Even if we don’t get it ourselves, it will affect members of our family, our social circle and our parish community.

Dementia is not a natural part of growing old and it is caused by diseases of the brain – the best known is probably Alzheimer’s Disease.  Every person is different but the common signs are memory loss, especially memory for recent events, forgetting our words, not being able to concentrate, changes in mood and behaviour.  People whose first language is not English may also forget their English despite having used it effectively for several decades.


The Alzheimer’s Society Campaign, “ Its time to talk about dementia”  is very appropriate because there is a great reluctance to talk about our own memory loss or that of our family members. The terms dementia, or Alzheimer’s paralyse us with fear.   The way dementia is portrayed on TV or in newspapers and magazines is very negative.  The common image is of somebody with severe memory loss, unusual behaviour, maybe aggressive, incontinent, helpless and hopeless.  Sadly some health professionals also see dementia in this way.

These images of dementia might be true at the later stages of the illness but  not in the early stages of the condition. These negative images ignore the reality that  many people with severe memory loss cope well, and live reasonably normal lives with the help of family and neighbours. They ignore the fact that memory fluctuates and people may be good some days but not others and that they develop ways of coping.  Such messages ignore the fact that although somebody with memory loss may have problems communicating, they are capable of understanding and doing more than we give them credit for. In particular they fail to recognise that the person with memory or dementia is still the person they were, our mum or dad, our husband or wife, our sister brother or friend, or neighbour or fellow parishioner.

Apart from focussing on the problems rather than the strengths of people with dementia, these negative ideas influence how we all think of dementia.  We don’t want to think that we or a loved one might be showing the signs of dementia. We are too frightened or embarrassed to talk to friends and we may stop socialising or going to Mass because of our memory or our loved ones behaviour.  We do not go to the doctor for fear of what might be wrong. This makes matters worse for the person with memory loss and their carer.  Although family members take on the responsibility of caring lovingly and without complaint, it is a difficult and demanding task and they need all the help and support they can get at all stages of the condition.

There is help available – assessment by the GP is the first stage.  Several conditions can mimic dementia and many of these are treatable.  If these are not eliminated, the GP should refer the person to a memory clinic for assessment. Although a diagnosis of dementia is never welcome, some people will be relieved to know what is wrong with them.  A diagnosis can also mean people get help. Drugs can be very effective in slowing down the disease if given in the early stages and psychological therapies can help with memory.  People can be helped to adapt their lives to retain independence as long as possible. Family carers can get support, advice and benefits.   It will never be a bed of roses, but there is help available and many people with dementia can lead contented fulfilling lives if they have a supportive network around them.

My aim is to get the parish talking about dementia.  Our own fears and embarrassment may stop us talking to somebody who has memory problems. We don’t do this maliciously but we find it hard to handle our own feelings and emotions.  We may avoid a carer because we don’t know what to say or we are embarrassed by their relative’s behaviour. We may talk to the carer and ignore the person with the memory problems.  We might be irritated by somebody who is restless or agitated or behaves in a strange manner at Mass. We may stop visiting friends or inviting them to our homes or to parish functions because we are uncomfortable. Family carers in particular become very isolated and the person with memory loss may deteriorate because of a lack of social interaction.  Don’t be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing- your concern will be appreciated.  The person with memory is loss is still the person they were and although they may not be able to express it, their feelings and emotions remain important.

Let us start talking about dementia with our family, our friends and in our parish.  For further information check the Alzheimer’s Society website talkdementia  or call 0300 222 1122.  If you are interested in learning more about how our parish can be more dementia friendly, watch the newsletter or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.