Dementia Awareness – September is a Time for Reflection
Commissioner for Senior Victorians, Gerard Mansour, reflects on Dementia Awareness Month.
September is Dementia Awareness Month and Sunday 21 September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Day where organisations around the world concentrate their efforts on raising awareness about Alzheimer's and dementia.
With more than 322,000 Australians affected by dementia, better awareness of the needs of people with dementia is essential.
As Commissioner for Senior Victorians, I consider Dementia Awareness Month to be a great opportunity for us to reflect – what do I know about dementia? There is no better time than right now to learn more about dementia, memory loss, what it is like to live with dementia and how we can build a more dementia friendly community.
While the rates of dementia aren’t increasing that is, the number per head of population, the number of people with dementia continues to increase given our longer life expectancy and increasing number of older people. A diagnosis of dementia can be challenging and research shows that some people avoid spending time with a person who has dementia as it can be confronting. But if we take time, our community can make a real difference: firstly by each of us improving our personal understanding of dementia and secondly by setting out to create a more dementia friendly community.
Many of our personal concerns can be addressed by improving our understanding of dementia, and this will in turn lead to people with dementia being better supported in our community.
As we age, it is natural for our five senses to deteriorate somewhat – we need glasses to read, can’t hear as well as we used to, and may not be able to discern objects at a distance as well as we once did.
Like other older people, people with dementia experience these functional declines, along with a gradual decline in cognitive ability. However, they still have personal interests, can communicate and socialise and can suffer loneliness and depression if socially isolated. Carers of people with dementia, often their partner or adult child, also need support and understanding within their local communities.
To better support people with dementia and their carers, it is vital for our community to understand what it means to create dementia friendly environments and communities. For example, businesses, employers and organisations can provide services tailored to the needs of people with dementia, and their carers.
Having staff who understand dementia and know how to communicate with people with dementia, employers allowing flexible arrangements for carers of people with dementia, organisations creating volunteering opportunities for people with dementia or welcoming people with dementia to join in their social, learning or sporting activities.
You can learn about dementia friendly environments by referring to Alzheimer’s Australia help sheets at https://vic.figthdementia.org.au or at www.enablingenvironments.com.au.
Environments can also be made more dementia friendly with relatively minor adjustments. For example, using paint to make doorways, steps and stairs more easily discernible (this also helps the vision impaired); and making signs for the toilets and lifts bold, easy to read and at eye-level. The Department of Health’s Dementia Friendly Environments guide provides information and tips on changes you can make to the home environment: http://www.health.vic.gov.au/dementia/
I encourage you to visit the Department of Health and Alzheimer’s Australia websites to find out more about dementia, look out for activities in your local area and find out how we can become a more dementia friendly community.
Commissioner for Senior Victorians
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