Dealing with Dementia

As we approach our senior years, the prospect of Dementia affecting us or someone we love becomes a real concern. While it is true that it affects mainly older folk, severity can vary and it is perhaps not as prevalent as you first think.

Dementia is a general term which is used to describe a combination of symptoms that include impaired thinking, changes in behaviour, loss of memory and a reduced ability to perform everyday tasks. This can make it difficult to live independently and to cope with social situations.

The condition can stem from a wide range of causes. The most commonly known cause is Alzheimer's disease, but it can also result from other diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

Diagnosis needs to be correct and as early as possible

The symptoms of other conditions may sometimes be mistaken for Dementia, so it is important to have it carefully diagnosed. In some cases, the symptoms may result from vitamin and hormone deficiencies, depression, or an infection, so diagnosis and treatment can only be done after proper testing.

Early diagnosis is of great assistance in treatment and management of the disease and as such it is important to act as soon as any suspicious signs emerge. These may only present in a very subtle manner to start with and can include:  

  • Memory loss 
  • Confusion
  • Personality changes 
  • Apathy and withdrawal

How is it treated?

While there is currently no prevention or cure for most forms of dementia, there are medications that may help to reduce some symptoms or may treat the flow on effects of Dementia such as anxiety or depression. Treatment must also involve a strong emphasis on managing the environment and supporting the sufferer with sensitive attention.

A key aspect of managing the condition for carers is to be well informed about how best to handle communication. Issues such as minimising distraction, being specific and simple in asking questions and making sure the person is not patronised are all important. It also takes a lot of patience, so it is preferable to share the burden across several family members, friends and other carers, where possible.

If management does become too difficult within the person’s home, then other specialised accommodation may need to be considered to ensure safety and more intensive care.

Taking care of the carers is critical

It is vital that carers are aware of the stresses they are under and take steps to ensure their own wellbeing, so that your batteries can be recharged and to regain perspective. Respite care is an important part of giving you a chance to get some breathing space and Government assistance may be available to enable this.

Where to go for help

Fortunately, there is wonderful support and resources available via the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or online at fightdementia.org.au