Dementia support and prevention
Currently in Australia, over 322,000 people suffer from dementia, with one in ten of Australians over the age of 65 affected by the condition.
However, the Australian population is rapidly aging: the number of Australians aged 65 is expected to increase from 2.5 million in 2002 to 6.2 million in 2042, with only 2.5 people of working age supporting each person aged over 65 as opposed to 5 people in 2002.
With this increase in the aging population, based on projections from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the number of people with dementia will reach almost 400,000 by 2020, and around 900,000 by 2050.
According to Jon Kontopos, CEO of Dementia Caring, as the population in Australia ages, there will be an increasing pressure on the healthcare system to cater for those needing aged care, especially those who will be affected by conditions like dementia which require a high level of care.
Mr Kontopos credits September’s Dementia Awareness Month as an important way to educate both family and carers on the challenges faced in caring for those experiencing dementia. He says the month is focused around reducing the risk of developing the condition, and to provide help on options for families on what services are available other than nursing homes.
Services such as home care services, care therapies including reminiscence therapy, and non pharmaceutical therapies.
“Dementia care is more than just having a personal carer - it also includes reminiscence therapy which takes people back to their past,” he says. It involves the carer ‘playing along’ with the patient’s lived memory, such as a validation of a mother’s moment of concern for the need to pick up the kids from soccer practice: carers can soothe her anxieties with a statement like, “we will arrange someone to pick up the kids for you.”
Psychology is also a big part of dementia care, with stimulation mind exercises a handy tool. Dementia patients are encouraged to keep an active mind through the use of puzzles, reading, painting and other forms of self-expression. Mr Kontopos gives the example of a former engineer on railways being given mechanical tools to use for an hour a day.
“Every little bit helps. This kind of treatment doesn’t need to involve medication. The key to good dementia care is much the same as maintaining a healthy life - looking after your mind, your heart and your diet.”
Social interaction is also important. That’s why the government is providing more support for people to stay at home longer with their families (of course, this is also because we do not have enough aged care facilities), in a familiar setting, and with their beloved pets also.
The Key Worker Assistance Program is a group of advocates who go into aged care facilities or visit people receiving care at home, and provide assistance for them to receive connection to support (like doing their Centrelink claims for them) and community (connecting them with community programs) - the idea is that professional carers need to keep their eye out for patients who might need this, and professional carers need to be trained how to do this, as well as the basics on how to physically care for an aged person.
Alzheimer’s Australia has some good resources for helping carers of dementia patients obtain access to support programs, as well as guides on practical support that can be provided by a friend or family member.
Mr Kontopos highlights the following tips for those encountering a loved one with early-onset dementia.
Communication is key - speak fluently, in simple sentences, using accurate emotions.
Planning routine tasks - develop a routine for having a shower, doing the laundry, feeding pets.
Being at home is “safe” to disoriented elderly patients
Occupational therapist can perform in-home consultations on dementia-friendly home modifications; subsidies are available.
Importantly, new dementia patients need to receive an ACAT or ACAS (Victoria) assessment from their health provider to determine what kind of assistance they may need for their condition. This includes housing, financial support and carer support.
Of course Mr Kontopos would like to see a better understanding of the preventative factors.
“Recognising the signs is important. If you do think someone has dementia, an assessment is important because it can be confused with depression. We can improve people’s quality of life by giving them the right diagnosis by pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical therapies.”
Prevention comes down to three factors: Mind, heart, diet.
Keep the mind active
Keep the heart healthy
Maintain a healthy diet
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