Dementia and Culture

Blog Dementia And Culture

Not everyone pays attention to current affairs – but there are a few headline facts that most Australians are aware of: our population is getting older, and more people living in Australia now were born overseas.

These demographic realities are certainly hitting home for our team of dementia advisors in the Dementia Advisory and Support Service (DASS), who work across Queensland to offer one-to-one support to people living with dementia and their families, and offer education on dementia to the general public and service providers.

Background Facts

One of the biggest risk factors for dementia is age – the older you are, the more likely you are to develop dementia. Dementia is not a natural or inevitable part of getting older, but it is an illness you’re more likely to get if you’re older. One in 10 people over 65 are living with dementia, but 3 in 10 people over 85 are living with dementia. It has been estimated that by 2056 the number of people living with dementia will be over one million (it’s now just over 425,000).

And we now know from the 2016 census that 26 per cent of the population was born overseas. Nearly half of all Australians (49 per cent) were either born overseas themselves or have one parent born overseas. More than a fifth of Australians (21 per cent) speak a language other than English at home.

DASS and Diversity

How must it feel, to be in your 70s, getting older in a country possibly far from your birthland – and then to develop dementia. Perhaps you don’t speak English often, and now you’re even starting to forget the English that you did know. You’re anxious about talking about your difficulties with a doctor – you’re afraid you won’t understand what he’s asking you about.

This is the situation for many older people, born overseas, perhaps speaking limited or no English, who are living with dementia. The process of getting a clear diagnosis is made more complicated by language and cultural differences, and it can be hard to accept care from outsiders who don’t speak your language.

Our Dementia Advisory and Support Service has recognised the importance of these issues and decided to take action. It’s so important that care providers are geared up to offer good support to people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Throughout 2018, from Townville to Toowoomba, our dementia advisors have been busy working with an organisation called Diversicare to make sure service providers are aware of how to support older people with dementia from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. Diversicare offers education and resources on cultural diversity to the aged care sector, and is also a service provider.

The half-day sessions are aimed at service providers working with people with dementia. They cover important territory such as:

  • about dementia and how it changes over time
  • how cultural factors play a significant role for people with dementia
  • communication issues for people with dementia from CALD communities
  • the assessment process for people with dementia from CALD communities
  • care and activity planning for people with dementia from CALD backgrounds.

Dementia advisor Rebecca Wright has been involved with delivering the session on several occasions now and says,

“The striking thing for me has been how complex someone’s culture truly is. We often consider the ‘fun’ parts of culture: food, dress, special occasions. But many issues came up during the training that can make care challenging: gender roles, family structures, migration experiences, health practices and previous experiences of using Australian healthcare services.

“Many participants brought up examples of how small changes – such as addressing someone by their cultural name, arranging a room in the style of their culture, re-introducing an important religious ritual, or culturally-appropriate body language – made huge differences for the person’s daily life. In the end, those sorts of changes make everyone feel more positive and confident: the person, their family, and care staff.”

If you’d like to find out more about the education and outreach work of our Dementia Advisory and Support Service, contact Ozcare on 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273).

For More Information

The census data can be found on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website here.

The statistics on dementia prevalence can be found here on the Dementia Australia website here. Dementia Australia also produces a range of help sheets on a variety of dementia topics in 43 languages, available here.