LGBT: Living with dementia

2. What is dementia?

Understanding what dementia is can help you to know what to expect. In this section we talk a bit about dementia and some common symptoms.

The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, and sometimes changes in mood or behaviour.

These changes are often small to start with, but in dementia they are bad enough to affect your daily life. Common symptoms include having problems with:

■ day-to-day memory – for example, forgetting things that happened recently
■ concentrating, planning or organising – for example, making decisions or carrying out a sequence of tasks, such as cooking a meal
■ language – for example, with following a conversation or finding the right word for something
■ ‘visuospatial’ skills – for example, judging distances and seeing objects in three dimensions
■ orientation – for example, losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where you are.

Living with dementia as an LGBT person

No two people are the same, and dementia will affect everyone differently. This is partly down to your diagnosis and partly down to your personality, situation, past experiences and the support you get.

Some of the symptoms of dementia may have particular implications for LGBT people. This could be because of changes you have experienced in your past, or because of things you have to think about on a day-to-day basis. For example, memory problems might make it harder for you to remember who you have told about your sexual orientation or gender identity.

Dementia is a progressive condition. This means that the symptoms get worse over time. As your condition progresses you will find it harder to manage day-to-day things and you will need more help and support. Planning ahead can help you prepare for this, and there may be some specific things to think about if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. For example, getting a Gender recognition certificate or giving your partner the ability to make decisions on your behalf.

You may also want different things from the kinds of services and support you need. For example, you may look to the LGBT community for support, or want services that are inclusive and understand that your identity is important to who you are and don’t just treat you ‘the same as everyone else’. We discuss all of these in the following pages.