#MentalHealth month week 3: Dementia awareness and memory clinics

Dr Con Kelly, Medical Director at the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL), has been involved with memory clinics since the 1990s, and set up a clinic in Hackney in 1997. He now works with the clinical team of the Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Memory Clinic, recently accredited as excellent by the Royal College of Psychiatrists for Quality Improvement.


Memory clinics are run by dementia experts and are vital for accurate diagnosis. In the short term, they can offer medications to stabilise cognitive function and help with the additional mental health conditions, such as depression, that can accompany dementia.


Crucially, a diagnosis at a memory clinic helps people plan to live with dementia. This means supporting the patient and their family by providing information on support services for legal issues like a Lasting Power of Attorney (for future health decisions as well as financial ones) and wills.


GPs refer people to the memory clinic when a person shows signs of experiencing memory difficulties. Specialist dementia nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, and psychologists are all involved in the assessment process, which can include a brain scan via CT or MRI. Brain scans are increasingly used to show the extent and pattern of the damage dementia has brought.


A consultant will discuss the case with the patient, and will spend three to six months providing mental health care to help people to come to terms with their diagnosis and provide strategies and treatments to help people minimise their memory difficulties.


High blood pressure seems to be a predictor for vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, which means that preventative actions – e.g. lowering cholesterol, a healthy diet, not smoking, treating diabetes – are all being promoted as ways to reduce its effects. Indeed, evidence suggests that the number of people with dementia is falling in London.


However, with an aging population and more different types of dementia predicted, memory clinics continue to be lifeline for those who are experiencing memory difficulties.


“We’ve had to fight the ‘well, old people get senile don’t they?’ attitude and actually, no they don’t. It’s true that one in five over 80 year olds will have dementia, but four in five don’t. Older people can have a very healthy old age,” said Dr Kelly.


“I’ve worked with the Alzheimer’s Society and helped to set up a branch in Hackney to raise awareness of dementia in the community, especially when diagnosis lags behind the demographic predictors.”


For more information about CNWL’s memory services, visit http://www.cnwl.nhs.uk/services/mental-health-services/older-people-and-healthy-ageing/memory-services


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