Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging both physically and emotionally. If you’re caring for someone living with dementia, it’s important to understand that if their behaviour changes, it may not be anyone’s fault. It can be a good idea to talk to a health professional. Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. The hallmark of dementia is the inability to carry out everyday activities as a consequence of diminished cognitive ability.
Doctors diagnose dementia if two or more cognitive functions are significantly impaired. The cognitive functions affected can include memory, language skills, understanding information, spatial skills, judgement and attention.
People with dementia may have difficulty solving problems and controlling their emotions. They may also experience personality changes. The exact symptoms experienced by a person with dementia depend on the areas of the brain that are damaged by the disease causing the dementia. With many types of dementia, some of the nerve cells in the brain stop functioning, lose connections with other cells, and die. Dementia is usually progressive. This means that the disease gradually spreads through the brain and the person’s symptoms get worse over time.
Who gets dementia?
Dementia can happen to anybody, but the risk increases with age. Most people with dementia are older, but it is important to remember that most older people do not get dementia. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing, but is caused by brain disease.
Is it dementia?
There are a number of conditions that produce symptoms similar to dementia. These can often be treated. They include some vitamin and hormone deficiencies, depression, medication effects, infections and brain tumours. It is essential that a medical diagnosis is obtained at an early stage when symptoms first appear to ensure that a person who has a treatable condition is diagnosed and treated correctly. If the symptoms are caused by dementia, an early diagnosis will mean early access to support, information and medication should it be available.
What can be done to help?
Support is vital for people with dementia and the help of families, friends and carers can make a positive difference to managing the condition. If you’re looking after someone with dementia, there are services available that offer education and support as well as respite care. The following support services are a good place to start.
National Dementia Helpline
You can call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 for information. The National Dementia Helpline is staffed by trained and experienced professionals. National Dementia Helpline operates during business hours and it is a telephone information and support service available across Australia. The Helpline is available for people with dementia, their carers, families and friends, as well as people concerned about memory loss. If you need an interpreter or advocate, the Helpline can provide access and referral to an appropriate service. Users who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment can phone the National Relay Service on 13 36 77.
The Alzheimer’s Australia website produces a series of help-sheets for carers of people with dementia, including a useful safety checklist.
Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service
The Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service (DBMAS) offers people with dementia and their carers support in managing behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, such as wandering and aggression. Visit the DBMAS website to find out more. Or, for clinical support, information and advice, contact them on 1800 699 799 (24 hours a day).
Carer support groups
Carer support groups can offer you a safe place to talk about your role as a carer. They can put you in touch with other carers who may be experiencing similar things to you so you can share advice and suggestions to support each other. For information about these groups in your area, call My Aged Care on 1800 200 422.
National Respite for Carers Program (NRCP)
The National Respite for Carers Program (NRCP) is one of several initiatives designed to assist you by providing government-subsidised access to a variety of respite services .The NRCP provides access to a variety of respite services.
This article provides a general summary only of the subject matter covered. People should seek professional advice about their specific case. This article is provided by the Sydney Multicultural Community Services under the Aged Care Service Improvement and Healthy Ageing Grant Fund by the Australian Government Department of Social Services .For more information you can contact Project Coordinator Maryam Maghsoodi on 02 95576157. This article is based on the information from Alzheimer’s Australia (What is dementia) and The Australian Government Department of Social Services (Dementia My Aged Care website).