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Supporting people with Dementia

by Elizabeth Harmon

Dementia affects hundreds of thousands of people across Australia as it gradually reduces brain functioning, causing memory loss, difficulty with movement and more. This can result in individuals having low confidence levels, poor self-esteem, a lack of independence and in severe cases, sufferers may become suicidal.

Whilst there is sadly currently no cure for dementia, it is important to help those living with this condition. This can ensure individuals continue to live happy and healthy lives, whilst feeling safe and supported.

What is Dementia?

Dementia refers to a collection of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and many others. Australian Government’s Department of Health defines dementia as “the impairment of brain functions, including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills”. It will often appear gradually and progress over time, with symptoms varying from person to person. It can happen to anyone, but research reveals that 1 in 10 people over 65 live with dementia and 3 in 10 over the age of 85.

According to Dementia Australia, more than 440,000 people in Australia live with dementia. This figure is on the rise and sadly it makes dementia the second most common underlying cause of death in Australia.

How can you support Dementia sufferers?

Whilst dementia is irreversible and incurable, it’s important to help those who suffer from the disease, to ensure they remain happy and healthy, whilst feeling supported. This support will need to be adapted to each individual and changed over time as symptoms develop further.

There are many ways you can provide support, but here are just a few suggestions:

1. Take time to understand their needs

Everyone living with dementia has different needs so it’s important to take the time to talk to them to understand their strengths, needs and struggles. They may still be able to do a lot of things they used to, but may gradually need more support, or simple, small changes may need to be made, to make tasks easier and safer for them to perform on their own.

2. Encourage skills that have not been forgotten

People living with dementia can sometimes feel frustrated or have low self-esteem, as they find themselves not being able to carry out simple tasks that they once did. Instead of focussing on what they can no longer do, focus on the skills they do have. Encourage them to use those skills as much as possible as this can help them feel useful and can give them back a sense of purpose. These tasks can be as simple as washing up, gardening, basic food preparation, laying the table or shopping. Over time, you may need to make changes to help them carry out these tasks, such as adding labels on kitchen cupboards so they can find everything or writing simple instructions for them to follow.

3. Ensure they get enjoyment out of life

Find out what they enjoy doing or what makes them feel relaxed and support them in those activities. This could be simply reading, drawing, knitting, listening to music, or something more active like playing an instrument or dancing.

4. Be Patient

Someone with dementia may be more forgetful, take longer to process what they want to say, or be slow carrying out simple tasks. It’s important that you don’t get frustrated with them, rush them during a conversation or talk to them in a way that could be condescending. Be patient and allow them to talk and carry out tasks at their own pace.

Would you like to provide ongoing support to those who are living with dementia? Working as a Community Care Worker, Home Care Assistant or Nursing Assistant could be a good fit for you. Ageing support is a career that is highly in demand and whilst challenging, it would be very rewarding.

To start your career as a Care Worker, consider taking Open Colleges’ Ageing Support course. This will give you the skills and experience you need to support seniors, including those living with dementia and enable them to live much happier lives.

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