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Understanding dementia better

Written by Adrienne Garnam, Activity Centre Operations Manager with integratedliving

Dementia - what are the stages, signs, risk factors and behaviours of concern to look out for?

There are 400,000 Australians living with dementia, and 1.5 million people involved in their care, according to Dementia Australia. Given the huge impact of this condition around the country, we answer some of your most pressing questions about it. 

What are the stages of dementia? 

Each person living with dementia will live their own unique journey through the various phases of dementia. Dementia Australia advises that the progression is generally identified by three stages of dementia. Early dementia, moderate dementia and advanced dementia. 

Early dementia is often something that is missed, and only recognised in hindsight as family members and close friends regularly put it down to general ageing and overuse.  

Moderate dementia is, generally speaking, easier to identify as the person may forget their address, where they keep their tea or coffee, or become lost when away from the home. 

Advanced dementia is the final stage, where the person may not have the ability to communicate any longer, and may not recognise family and friends. 

What are the different types of dementia? 

There are hundreds of different types of dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term which is used to describe the symptoms of disorders within the brain’s pathology.  

Are there any types of dementia that are more prevalent? 

The most common type of diagnosed dementia worldwide is Alzheimer's Disease. 

What are the risk factors for dementia? 

There are genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's Disease, for example – familial Alzheimer's which has a pattern of inheritance. However, this is quite rare and currently only five per cent of all cases are diagnosed as genetic. 

Other modifiable risk factors such as diabetes; high blood pressure; high cholesterol; smoking; high alcohol intake, and poor diet, have all been identified as risk factors associated with a large percentage of diagnosed cases of dementia. 

What are examples of behaviours of concern? 

Behaviours of concern include: 

  • Sudden changes in personality, including mood. This could present in the person having quite severe mood swings, going from really happy to really angry or sad with no reasoning.  
  • Being forgetful, but not remembering later on, or forgetting entire words or names that don’t come back to them in time. 
  • Disorientation to time and place. 

How can we gain a better understanding of dementia? 

The University of Tasmania has an incredible (FREE!) online course available for all – it is called ‘Understanding Dementia’ and it is an online course which spans over seven weeks. This is a fantastic place to start. It is held multiple times each year and is entirely online. 

There are support groups available in a lot of different communities, and these can be accessed by contacting Dementia Australia. Dementia Australia also holds online webinars, and information sessions for carers and for people living with dementia. 

Do you have a checklist of the early signs of dementia? 

I think the most important thing to highlight is that we can all become forgetful at times, we may forget words, places, names and so on, but the concern is when we do forget and don’t seem to remember again. 

Other signs include: 

  • Changes in personality as I mentioned previously. 
  • Changes in self care, that may now be lacking. 
  • Changes in the initiative to complete everyday tasks. 

How does integratedliving assist clients with dementia? 

There is a very well-known quote I love to refer to – If you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia” – by Professor Tom Kitwood, a pioneer in the field of dementia care. 

To me, this quote means so much. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach when caring for somebody living with dementia. It is so important to listen to the person and understand what is important to them and what they value most. 

We involve our clients and carers in every step of the onboarding process to ensure we are able to deliver a person-centered service to each of our clients. 

What are the most beneficial services integratedliving offers to people with dementia? 

Our Central Coast Activity Centres are extremely beneficial as they are specific to dementia care. The environments are warm, homely, and inviting for all of our clients.

The Centres give them the opportunity to access a safe, social setting within their Community throughout the week. Our clients are given choice with activities and meals.

They are encouraged to use their current skills and abilities while attending the Centre. This could be by assisting with preparing an activity, or even running an activity with a staff member or volunteer nearby. 

What about their carers? 

We hope that by having our Activity Centres open for people living with dementia, we are also assisting our lovely carers’ to have some respite of their own. Our Centre Coordinators have such a wonderful and warm rapport with our carers as a lot of our communication is over the phone or face to face. 

We also provide transport for the clients to attend the Centres, which may take an added stress away from their carers. 

The tagline for the 2023 Dementia Awareness Action Week is ‘Act Now for a Dementia-Friendly Future’. How can we best do this? 

We can become familiar with and follow Dementia Australia’s dementia-friendly language guidelines. They highlight that appropriate language must be: 

  • Accurate 
  • Respectful 
  • Inclusive 
  • Empowering 
  • Non-stigmatising 

We can learn to be more aware of the effects a diagnosis has on the person living with dementia, as well as their carers, and their closest family and friends. Reach out to those affected and ask them how you can better support them.  

Dementia Australia says that more than 400,000 Australians are living with dementia. That is an extraordinary number and it is expected to rise. Dementia Australia estimates that more than 1.5 million people are involved in the care of people living with dementia. From these numbers alone, it is evident that more dementia-friendly communities are needed.  

“Those with dementia are still people and they have stories, and they still have character and they’re individuals and they’re all unique. They just need to be interacted with on a human level” – Carey Mulligan.  

Find out more about dementia care and community nursing in Stephen's podcast episode.

Find out more about our Activity Centres