De­men­tia talk clears a path

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By CORAL COOKSLEY

KNOWL­EDGE, un­der­stand­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion were key mes­sages about de­men­tia – a brain dis­ease - de­liv­ered in a re­cent in­for­ma­tion ses­sion at Beech­worth Health Ser­vice.

Septem­ber is a na­tional de­men­tia aware­ness month in which Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia is help­ing to co-or­di­nate ‘You are not alone’ – a na­tional cam­paign to foster com­mu­nity sup­port and un­der­stand­ing for those who have the dis­ease and those who care for them.

Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia Hume re­gion fa­cil­i­ta­tor Penny Bing­ham co-or­di­nated the sec­ond of three ac­tiv­i­ties to foster in Beech­worth and the wider com­mu­nity aware­ness of the ter­mi­nal con­di­tion.

Ms Bing­ham pro­vided a snap­shot of the mean­ing and com­plex­i­ties of de­men­tia, its types and preva­lence.

She also spoke about the main causes, key signs, risk fac­tors, symp­toms and be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing ways in which ed­u­ca­tion had be­come cru­cial.

De­men­tia is the coun­try’s sec­ond big­gest killer after heart dis­ease.

More than 413,000 peo­ple were now liv­ing with the dis­ease and it is es­ti­mated that an equal num­ber re­mains un­di­ag­nosed.

“There are 10 peo­ple an hour or 240 peo­ple a day be­ing di­ag­nosed in Aus­tralia,” Ms Bing­ham said.

She said the brain of an af­fected per­son grad­u­ally be­came more dam­aged from in­ter­rupted neu­ro­log­i­cal path­ways through a build-up of toxic pro­teins and plaque where nerves died.

Ms Bing­ham said symp­toms be­came more fre­quent over time and could take up to 15 years be­fore fully ex­pressed.

She said al­though age was a risk fac­tor, de­men­tia was not a nor­mal part of ag­ing.

But as peo­ple lived longer the risk in­creased.

She said the in­creas­ing in­ci­dence of early on­set de­men­tia meant knowl­edge and an un­der­stand­ing of the dis­ease was cru­cial for de­tec­tion of early stage symp­toms.

More than 100 dis­eases may cause de­men­tia.

The most com­mon were Alzheimer’s dis­ease, which ac­counted for two thirds of di­ag­nosed cases, vas­cu­lar de­men­tia and de­men­tia with Lewy bod­ies.

“Peo­ple can have more than one form of de­men­tia and there is no spe­cific pro­gres­sion of stages,” Ms Bing­ham said.

She said a per­son-cen­tred ap­proach was needed.

She said peo­ple liv­ing with de­men­tia of­ten be­came over­whelmed, had dif­fi­culty with or­gan­i­sa­tion, en­gaged in repet­i­tive ac­tions and lost ra­tio­nal judg­ment.

Ms Bing­ham said an ef­fort was needed to re­fer to peo­ple as liv­ing with de­men­tia, not suf­fer­ing with it, and it was vi­tal that dis­cus­sion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­tin­ued.

“It is crit­i­cal to al­low peo­ple to main­tain in­de­pen­dence with a fo­cus on what a per­son can do com­pared with what they can’t do,” she said.

Strate­gies to re­duce the risk of de­men­tia in­cluded ex­er­cise, healthy di­ets and lim­ited al­co­hol in­take.

“If it’s good for your heart then it’s good for your brain,” Ms Bing­ham said.

Learn­ing some­thing new, such as a lan­guage, and main­tain­ing so­cial net­works also helped re­duce risk.

High choles­terol and di­a­betes ag­gra­vated the risk.

Beech­worth’s He­len Kilkenny, a trained so­cial worker, said the ses­sion fur­thered her knowl­edge on the causes and be­hav­iour of peo­ple with de­men­tia.

“It in­creased my un­der­stand­ing and how I can help car­ers do their vi­tal role,” she said.

Ms Bing­ham helped shape a carer sup­port group in Beech­worth after it was se­lected as a pi­lot com­mu­nity for a pro­gram called ‘Chang­ing Minds’ in 2015.

Beech­worth Health Ser­vice, Indigo North Health, Indigo Shire Health and Yackan­dan­dah Health con­tinue to col­lab­o­rate to build on the learn­ing from ‘Chang­ing Minds’.

VI­TAL: Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia Hume re­gion fa­cil­i­ta­tor Penny Bing­ham is help­ing to pro­vide knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of de­men­tia – a brain dis­ease.

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