Dementia is the name given to a broad group of symptoms. It is a physical process that begins in the brain, but its symptoms affect a person’s day-to-day life, communication and relationships with others.
Signs and symptoms of dementia may include:
These symptoms are the result of damage to and then loss of brain cells. For further information please follow the link to Dementia Australia: https://www.dementia.org.au/files/resources/FamilyAndFriendsMatter_english.pdf
A large number of illnesses can cause cell loss in the brain, which results in dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, but there are over 100 other types of dementia.
About 60% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.
Other common types are vascular dementia (20%), frontotemporal dementia (10%) and Lewy body dementia (5%).
It is possible to have more than one type of dementia, and this is usually called ‘mixed dementia’. The most common type of mixed dementia is where a person has both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
If you are interested in finding out more about the types of dementia, you can look at the information on the Queensland Brain Institute website here.
You might have heard of mild cognitive impairment (this is often shortened to ‘MCI’).
Mild cognitive impairment is a medical condition but is not diagnosed as dementia.
MCI refers to when a person has a small but definite decline in their thinking abilities – so problems with memory, language, complex thinking and planning. Generally, MCI does not have a substantial impact on a person’s day-to-day living skills.
People with MCI may improve and return to having normal cognition (or thinking skills), while some will go on to develop dementia.
Australian guidelines on MCI report that between 14-18% of older people over 70 years of age develop MCI.
To take a look at the guidelines, click here.
To begin, it may be unclear if a person is starting to show the signs of dementia. It may only be very close family and friends who wonder if something is wrong.
Once a person is having difficulties on a daily basis – misplacing keys, forgetting simple words, missing appointments – it is probably time to visit the GP to raise concerns.
It is impossible to know how any individual person’s dementia will progress as each person’s experience of living with dementia is unique to them. Many and varying factors can influence whether a person progresses quite rapidly over a few years or if they will live well with dementia for many years. It can depend upon the type of dementia as some types progress more rapidly, other physical health issues and the support available to that person and their family.
A GP will begin by asking the person about their medical history and their current symptoms: for example, when did they start to notice difficulties, what sort of difficulties are they facing, when are they better or worse, and how they are coping.
They may then do some tests to rule out any other causes for the symptoms. Sometimes a person’s memory loss may be caused by other problems which can be treated successfully. For example, if a person has a type of infection they may seem very confused but treating the infection should mean the confusion goes away too.
The GP is also likely to use a cognitive screening test to review a person’s thinking, language and memory skills. A common assessment used is called the ‘Mini Mental Status Examination’ or MMSE. This involves asking a series of questions and establishing if the person can answer these correctly.
The GP may refer the person for a brain scan – most likely an MRI scan or a CT scan – to establish what is going on in the person’s brain. If the scan shows evidence of some brain cell loss, combined with the history that the patient has reported, the doctor may then confirm a diagnosis of dementia.
These results may then prompt the GP to refer the person to a specialist doctor, such as a geriatrician, neurologist or psychiatrist whose focus is understanding all aspects related to dementia and its impact on a person’s ability to function.
A doctor will be attempting to establish which type of dementia a person is living with – for example whether it is Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, or another type of dementia. Knowing the type of dementia is important as it may have implications regarding the medication prescribed and help everyone to have a better understanding of what kind of symptoms to expect.
In Australia, it is estimated that over 470,000 people are living with dementia.
Women are more likely to get dementia than men: in 2016, dementia became the leading cause of death for women in Australia. It is the third highest cause of death for men.
According to Dementia Australia, three in 10 people over the age of 85 and almost one in 10 people over 65 have dementia.
It is possible to be in your 40s, 50s and 60s and to be diagnosed with dementia, although it is unusual.
In Australia, approximately 28,000 people living with dementia are under the age of 65 (so about 5 per cent of all cases). This is called ‘younger onset dementia’.
People diagnosed with younger onset dementia do face complex challenges, usually to do with the stage of life they are at, with heavy work and family commitments. Diagnosis can take a long time.
You can access more information on dementia statistics at Dementia Australia’s website here.
No one knows exactly. There is more research than ever being done now to try to answer this question, particularly into understanding both the causes and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
However, it is known that people who have Alzheimer’s disease have a build-up of two types of proteins in their brains – and that these proteins destroy brain cells. But we don’t know why this build-up happens in the first place.
Vascular dementia is caused by difficulties with getting blood flowing to and in the brain, and where these difficulties occur within the brain will affect the type of symptoms a person faces. But again, why some people develop vascular dementia either after having a stroke or smaller transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) and others don’t is not clear. There are, however, clearer risk factors for vascular dementia – and these are similar risk factors for heart disease.
Dementia is not a normal part of the ageing process – not everyone who gets older develops dementia. While it is true that you are more at risk of developing dementia the older you get, ageing itself doesn’t cause dementia.
If you are interested in finding out more about the causes of dementia, you can access information on the Queensland Brain Institute website here.
Yes, there are a lot of things that people can do to try to prevent dementia.
We have learnt a lot more about possible dementia prevention strategies than ever before.
The five main ways you can try to prevent dementia as well as maintaining good health are:
Even by doing all these things, it is still possible to develop dementia – but hopefully the risk of developing dementia is less.
A good place to find out more about dementia prevention is the Dementia Australia website.
There are some treatments that may help temporarily with symptoms, for some people, but at this stage there is no cure. While globally there is more research being done this gives hope that a cure will be found in the future.
More is also being done to support people to live well with dementia here and now, however as dementia progresses life expectancy is shortened.
Ozcare’s Dementia Advisory and Support Service is an example of a service set up to support people to maintain their quality of life for as long as possible – in spite of a diagnosis of dementia.
There are several types of medication that may hopefully stabilise symptoms of some types of dementia, but they need to be prescribed and reviewed regularly by your doctor or specialist to meet your individual needs. It is best to consult with your doctor regarding all medications, including the use of natural therapy.
The technical name for these medications is ‘cholinesterase inhibitors’, and the most common of these is called Donepezil (a common brand name is Aricept). Others are Rivastigmine (sold as Exelon) and Galantamine (Reminyl). Memantine is another type of drug prescribed for people with Alzheimer’s disease, but is less common. Unfortunately, these medications are not effective for every person who takes it, and they can have side-effects.
Many people with dementia are living with a range of other health problems including mental health issues. Therefore, doctors may consider other types of medication to help with for example sleeping, anxiety, depression, vascular problems or changes in behaviour. It is important that the use of any antipsychotic medications is clearly discussed with your doctor to ensure that all other possibilities have been explored.
Whatever type of medication is prescribed for a person with dementia, it is important that the medication is reviewed regularly by the professional prescribing the medication, with input from family and care staff.
Click here to access a range of Dementia Australia help sheets which address medication in dementia.
There are lots of ‘non-pharmacological’ or ‘non-drug’ approaches that are worth exploring to offer support to people with dementia.
Walking, gardening, swimming, and cycling are all examples of simple exercise that can work well for people with dementia – helping with both physical health and mood.
The creative arts can also offer lots of stimulation and support to people with dementia: painting, poetry, music, dance, drama, photography and so on. These sorts of activities can bring fresh opportunities for a person with dementia to learn, to engage with others, and to express some of their more difficult feelings and experiences due to their communication changes.
Reminiscence may also offer stimulation and a way of reconnecting with positive memories from the past.
Intergenerational activities can be a wonderful way of bringing younger and older people together to share and learn alongside one another.
Counselling can help people with dementia to come to grips with the changes they are facing, especially in the earlier stages of the illness.
Rehabilitation is another approach that may make a big difference for a person with dementia – with some helpful guidance, and minor adjustments in their life, they may well be able to continue some activities quite independently.
It is possible for people diagnosed with dementia to live well, providing that support is given to both the person and the people in the caring role.
People with dementia can still try new things, stay involved in their local communities and favourite activities, and develop new friendships and interests.
Dementia will certainly result in some changes to daily living – but what these are will vary enormously. One person may need help with finding things in their kitchen, for example, by putting up some simple signs or using prompts to remind the person to attend appointments. Another person may need help with transport in getting to and from a regular meet-up group. Many people retain their characteristic strengths, and while they may need to make small changes across a few areas of their life, for the most part their life goes on normally.
Eventually, over time, the needs of a person with dementia may increase, as the brain progressively becomes more impaired. From early on, it is important that a person with dementia and their family develop a network of supporters – both people and organisations – that they can turn to when things become more difficult.
There are a range of ways in which families living with dementia can be supported, including:
Most of the formal care options for people living with dementia are funded by the Federal Government, under a range of different funding schemes, and are accessed by first contacting My Aged Care online or by calling 1800 200 422.
Another way of getting support is by linking up with other people who are in a similar situation – in support groups, or social groups, for people with dementia and family carers. You can find out more about Ozcare’s support groups in the question below.
If you or a loved one is presenting with any signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment or dementia Ozcare’s Dementia Advisory and Support Service is here to help. We offer information and a range of practical support to people with dementia and their families throughout Queensland.
For some people, this may mean in the first instance supporting you to go through a diagnosis process. For others, it may mean providing help to understand what dementia means and how it impacts on your daily living. We can assist with talking through suggestions or options of support for facing those daily challenges.
Our experienced team can also help you navigate the aged care system, so that you’re aware of all that’s on offer to people with dementia. Most of the formal care options for people living with dementia are funded by the Federal Government, under a range of different funding schemes, and are accessed by first contacting My Aged Care online or by calling 1800 200 422.
We can visit you in your own home or wherever you feel comfortable to speak – either face-to-face or by telephone. We generally work with people for 2-3 months to help them get a plan together for living with dementia.
We are a Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) service, funded by the Federal Government.
For more information contact 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273) to confirm eligibility.
Ozcare is proud to be the only care provider in Queensland that offers specialist dementia support through all stages of care for people living with dementia, their carers and families.
We work with you, your family, and your carer to help you navigate the challenges of living with dementia. We provide options for in-home, respite and permanent care that can be changed as your needs change.
If you are living with dementia and need some assistance to stay in your home longer or are a carer who would benefit from respite care, we can help you with a complete suite of home care services.
Our home care services are delivered by our skilled and friendly staff who travel around the community every day providing help in the home. Our staff tailor their visit to support each person to meet their individual needs. We make sure you see familiar faces for each appointment so you can get to know the care assistants and feel comfortable with them in your home.
Dementia Day Respite
Our eight Day Respite Centres around Queensland offer a fun, social outing for people living with dementia, and the opportunity for their carers to take a break, run errands, meet friends, study, or go to work.
The centres are open during business hours and offer transport to and from surrounding suburbs, meals cooked by our chefs, and a day full of activities. Our trained and caring staff are there to provide whatever support is needed.
Day respite offers positive experiences for people living with dementia and our staff are experienced in caring for your unique needs.
Dementia Residential Respite
Our 16 aged care facilities offer temporary residential respite care for people living with dementia in our secure, specialised dementia wings.
Clients who move into our facilities receive 24 hour a day, 7 day a week care by our experienced team of nurses, care workers, allied health professionals, and hospitality staff.
Your respite stay can last for a day or a few weeks, depending on what you need. The maximum stay set by the government is 63 days, but this can be extended in special circumstances.
Dementia Aged Care Facilities
As a dementia specialist organisation, Ozcare has created dementia-specific wings at all of our aged care facilities around Queensland.
Our highly trained team of nurses, care workers, allied health professionals, and hospitality staff provide care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in a secure environment.
Whether you need complex nursing care, or just a little help with daily living activities such as moving around, showering, and dressing, we cater for people of all stages of dementia and all ages.
(Please note: the following groups are currently on hold due to COVID-19. Please call 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273) for more information.
Living Well with Dementia group in Bundaberg
Ozcare Bundaberg encourages people living with dementia, their family, and carers to join us on the 3rd Friday of every month from February to December for a group that focuses on joint activities for the person living with dementia and their carers. We meet at a local community café or at Ozcare offices and the group is run by Ozcare’s dementia adviser Denise Hodder. For more information contact 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273).
Younger Onset Dementia Group with Mackay Alzheimer’s in Mackay
Younger people living with dementia in Mackay are invited to come along on the 3rd Thursday of each month to Mackay Alzheimer’s offices at 167 Evans Street, South Mackay. This group is supported by Ozcare’s dementia advisor Diane Barber. For more information contact 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273).
Social group in Mackay
This support group is for older people living with dementia and their carers. It meets on the 2nd Friday of the month from 11.30am to 1.30pm, at the City Bowls Club, 305 Shakespeare Street, Mackay. $10 dollars for lunch meal. This group is run in partnership with Mackay Alzheimer’s and is supported by Ozcare’s dementia advisor Diane Barber. For more information contact 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273)..
Dinner with Friends in Townsville
People with dementia are invited to this monthly social get-together, held on a Friday evening, usually at local restaurants. This group is supported by Ozcare’s dementia advisor Ruth McCall. For more information contact 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273).
Walking group in Townsville
People with dementia and their carers are invited to a weekly walking group, run by Heart Foundation Walking, with support from Ozcare’s Dementia Advisory and Support Service. For more information contact 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273).
Social groups in Cairns
Ozcare’s dementia advisor Britta Hollamby supports two social groups for people with dementia in Cairns. One is aimed at older people with dementia and carers and meets on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at a café. The second group is for people with dementia and meets every second week on Fridays at a café. For more information contact 1800 Ozcare (1800 692 273).
Dementia Australia offers an enormous range of information on dementia (help sheets, online information, videos and much more) as well as a telephone help line on 1800 100 500. Dementia Australia also runs a range of support groups, and education and public information sessions on dementia.
The Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland also shares a lot of good information on dementia through its website and public information sessions.
Dementia Alliance International is an international advocacy organisation run by people living with dementia. Its website includes links to many resources including information about their online support groups by and for people with dementia.
We offer a range of services to support people living with dementia, their carers and families to make sense of things and move forward.
Let’s talk about dementia. We’ve compiled some helpful information to help families make sense of behaviours and put in place strategies to go forward.