Caring for a loved one who has with dementia or Alzheimer's disease is a stressful and extremely demanding occupation and carers often need assistance to enable them cope with the pressures they face on a daily basis.
SUR in English spoke with professional health worker David Donaldson about the difficulties faced by those who look after dementia patients, and the tireless work he has done to assist the English-speaking community on the Costa del Sol to overcome these problems.
David, a nurse with more than 20 years' experience, came to live in Spain in 1999. Two years later, he founded the Mijas-based Medicare Nursing Services, specialising in individual holistic healthcare for the local expat community.
Dealing with dementia
As a healthcare professional, David deals with dementia on a daily basis, so it was only natural that he would become involved with setting up a specialised support group in Calahonda. Together with former Lions Club president Maggie Bobowizc, David founded the Alzheimer and Dementia Support Group (ADSG).
Maggie, who died earlier this year, had experienced dementia first hand when her husband of 50 years was diagnosed, and she became his sole carer. Maggie sought support from David and his team, and after her husband died, she decided that she wanted to share her experience and wisdom with other carers of loved-ones who were affected by the disease.
As time went on it became apparent that there was a real need for a regular English-language support group, and this was founded in 2019, thanks to the generosity of Age Care Calahonda, who agreed to support the group financially, as well as with volunteers and an appropriate venue to hold the meetings.
"I looked after Maggie's husband when he was diagnosed with dementia and we soon realised that there was a need to form a support group for the English-speaking community. I worked with Age Care anyway, so things progressed from here. It was the perfect fit in terms of what Maggie and I were trying to do and what Age Care is about," David told SUR in English.
Support and advice
With the support of international financial advisers Blevins Franks, the group began meeting twice a month at the Baptist Church in Calahonda. While the carers are offered support and advice, David's team are on hand to look after the patients and keep them occupied with all sorts of activities, including music and art therapy.
"We have an amazing team who all give up their time and expertise free of charge. We have several professionals, including a psychologist, a lawyer and a team of nurses and healthcare workers. The support group enables the carers to spend time with people who truly understand the journey they are on," David said.
The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's is old age, and, like dementia, there is no cure and no way to prevent the disease: as David pointed out, there are only limited medical treatments available for the symptoms.
"We have medications that slow down the process, but they won't change the reality. We can stall the disease to some degree, but medication is still very much trial and error."
Alzheimer's accounts for between 60 and 80 per cent of dementia cases, although dementia is not a normal part of the ageing process. The disease is caused by damage to the brain cells and this will affect a person's ability to communicate.
"Early diagnosis is very important, as is seeking professional advice. First, we look for a physical cause, then we carry out what we call a mini-mental state examination, where we look at what the short-term memory is doing. Many people are confused between Alzheimer's and dementia, but it is a variance of the same disease. It is a bit like saying someone is autistic. It's a spectrum. It all falls under the same umbrella," he explained.
One of the difficulties is that not all people who have been diagnosed want to attend support groups and meetings, especially inthe early stages of the disease.
"The support group is not for everybody. Some people are not advanced enough to want to join. What coming to the group does potentially is show them their future, and this can be too much for them to handle," David said.
David believes that one of the biggest problems this year has been that carers have felt more isolated because of the lockdown. The meetings are usually the only place where carers can relax with others in the same situation, but at the moment, the group is not holding meetings because of the restrictions enforced to combat the spread of Covid-19.
"We have people who come to us from all over. From a client's perspective, I can think of nothing worse than knowing the group is meeting and they cannot come because of the travel restrictions. This is why we made a collective decision to cancel all meetings until the restrictions are lifted, but this has had a great effect on many patients and their loved ones," he added.