With an ageing population, the topic of dementia and how to best support people living with dementia and their carers is gaining momentum.
The statistics can be quite alarming, with Dementia Australia stating that there are approximately 436,366 Australians currently living with dementia. They estimate that this number is expected to increase to 589,807 by 2020 and 1,076,129 by 2058.
The symptoms that people living with dementia experience can vary greatly but include things such as progressive and frequent memory loss, confusion, personality change, apathy and withdrawal, anxiety, sleep disturbances, wandering, aggression and a loss of ability to perform everyday tasks (Click here to learn more recognising the symptoms of dementia). At present there is no cure for dementia so it is about how the symptoms people may be experiencing can be reduced.
Best results are obtained when carers work closely with their loved ones doctor and health care team, with medication and non-medication options available. In the first instance it can be a good idea to explore some therapy based strategies with research showing that these can achieve positive results for people experiencing an escalation in their dementia symptoms.
Therapy based strategies can include things such as exercise, music, reminiscence, sensory and pet therapy. Anglican Care’s Lifestyle, Wellbeing & Diversity Manager, Jane Meldrum says,
“Strategies don’t have to be complicated to have an impact on improving quality of life. Sometimes it can be the simplest things that can have the greatest affect, for example reconnecting someone with a hobby or pastime that they have previously enjoyed, or looking through an old photo album filled with happy memories can have a huge impact”.
What about if you are friends with someone who is living with dementia – how do you remain good friends?
An often misunderstood illness, many people grapple with exactly how to stay connected with a friend who is living with or showing signs of dementia. Yet the need for friendships does not diminish when someone lives with this disease. In fact Dementia Australia states, “Chances are this is when we need our friends the most.” Many things may impact the way you see your friendship, you may find yourself fearing the unknown, feeling confusion over changes in your friends behaviour or you might be focussing on what’s no longer possible rather than what is.
Be mindful your friend with dementia may be experiencing strong feelings too. Feelings of fear, loss, sadness, anxiety, confusion, even embarrassment – all of which are normal feelings caused by dementia.
So what can you do to remain a good friend? Be aware people living with dementia are working hard to make sense of the world and any confusion they may be feeling as a result of the disease. It is normal for them to having feelings of grief and loss, even anger, caused by their dementia. Don’t take to heart mistakes or miscommunications made due to memory loss, instead be understanding. It might help to picture yourself in their shoes.
Dementia Australia notes that contact with friends helps maintain a person with dementia’s sense of identity and worth. Simply being with a friend is a pleasure because of their familiar comforting presence and although your friend might forget some of your shared experiences, the essential part of the person remains. Above all it’s important we stay connected to a friend with dementia in meaningful ways and that you carry on enjoying the interests you continue to share. What they need at this time is a really good friend.
Click here to learn more about dementia and how we can support you or a loved one, or visit the Dementia Australia website, or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.