Dementia currently affects an estimated one in 10 Australians aged over 65; so it’s likely that you know someone with dementia or perhaps you might be affected by it yourself. However, Kaele Stokes from Dementia Australia says despite its prevalence, dementia is still a widely misunderstood disease. We spoke with Kaele to demystify dementia, and learn how to be a dementia friend.
Q. So Kaele, first things first, what is dementia?
A. Dementia is an umbrella term; it is used to describe a set of symptoms that are caused by diseases of the brain. These diseases or disease processes cause a progressive decline in a person’s functioning. Common symptoms include progressive and frequent memory loss, confusion, changes in personality, apathy and withdrawal, and loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.
Q. Why does dementia occur?
A. There are over 100 different diseases that can trigger dementia. You might have heard of the most common ones, such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, or diseases that can include dementia as part of their symptoms, like Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease.
Q. What can people do if they are diagnosed with dementia?
A. There is not yet a definitive prevention strategy or cure for most forms of dementia. However, some medications have been found to reduce some symptoms, and seeking a diagnosis by a doctor or other qualified medical specialist is an important step. Support is also vital for people with dementia as well as their families and carers. It really can make a positive difference to managing the condition.
Q. What is a dementia-friendly community and how does it improve the lives of people with dementia?
A. At Dementia Australia, we encourage the creation of dementia-friendly communities. These are inclusive communities where people living with dementia can live a quality life that has meaning, purpose and value. This might mean the community has a better awareness of what dementia is and how it can affect people. Or it might be about providing clear signage, with both words and imagery, to provide clear visual cues. At its heart, a dementia-friendly community is about recognising people with dementia as people who have their own skills, expertise and value.
Q. What are your top three tips to becoming a dementia-friend?
A. Be aware. Educate yourself about dementia. By understanding the disease you are better equipped to support others, whether it be a family member, or someone you meet at your local shops.
Listen. Talk to people impacted by dementia about their experience. This will allow you to gain some perspective on what it is really like to live with dementia, provide support and help combat stigma.
Take the pledge. Visit www.dementiafriendly.org.au to complete a short course that will give you a better understanding of dementia, and how to support a dementia-friendly community. Plus upon completion, you receive a “I am a dementia friend” badge in the mail!
Find out more about Just Better Care's dementia support services here