Dementia talk clears a path
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.