Support is the key according to new survey – photo David Lowe

Dementia affects close to half a million Australians and that number is set to double in the next 25 years, according to Dementia Australia.

Many Australians will start experiencing the impact of dementia among their own family and friends in the coming years, but it’s important to remember that people living with dementia can continue to live active and rich lives many years after diagnosis.

The concept for Dementia Action Week 2020 has been developed in consultation with Dementia Advocates, who have a lived experience of dementia.

Dementia Australia is keen to counter the prevailing attitude that people living with dementia are all old, frail and living in care.

Such misconceptions lead to judgements by the community about the capacity of a person living with dementia and condescending behaviour as well as discrimination.

The fact is that many people living with dementia can continue to live well for many years after their diagnosis, making significant contributions to the community, making their own choices and living rich and active lives.

As part of Dementia Action Week, Dementia Australia will be releasing a new tip each day on how everyone can help people living with dementia live well, and they are asking people to share these.

Dementia Australia

Latest numbers

Three out of four people who live with dementia say people don’t keep in touch like they used to, while 65 per cent say people they know have been avoiding or excluding them.

Survey findings also reveal just how big an issue discrimination is and the impacts it has for people living with dementia, their families and carers. Dementia affects close to half a million Australians and that number is set to double in the next 25 years.

Other key findings from those who responded to the Dementia Australia survey, which canvassed the views of over 5,000 people, include:

  • 94 per cent of family members, friends or carers who responded to the survey say people haven’t kept in touch with a relative who lives with dementia as they used to
  • 71 per cent of family members, friends and carers who responded to the survey say they haven’t been included in family activities
  • 80 per cent of family members, friends or carers who responded to the survey say that people have gone out of their way to avoid their friend or relative who lives with dementia when they are out and about
  • 81 per cent of family members, friends and carers who responded to the survey felt that people in shops, cafes and restaurants treat people with dementia differently
  • 90 per cent of family members, friends or carers who responded to the survey say that their friend or relative who lives with dementia is treated with less respect than other people

Full and active lives still possible with support

The theme for Dementia Action Week in 2020 is ‘Dementia: a little support makes a lot of difference’. The accompanying campaign gives voice to real dementia stories from across Australia.

Ann Pietsch, who lives with dementia, said it was important to see people living with dementia as being regular, everyday people.

‘The stereotypes are that we’re all elderly and we’re all losing our memories and that we can’t really manage anything much,’ Mrs Pietsch said.

‘There are so many different people with dementia and there are so many types of dementias with all sorts of symptoms. It’s not just forgetting things – it’s more than that. It might be being unable to get organised or organise your day or your thoughts, or having a fuzzy day, as I call it.

‘One of the most helpful ways of managing my dementia is to remain positive and to live well with dementia. I volunteer at the museum and I really enjoy meeting people and talking to people. It’s very rewarding.’

Theresa Flavin (see video below) took up horse-riding after her diagnosis. ‘I found an awesome coach who I really trusted, and she gave me confidence. She was so patient. She broke the whole thing into little pieces of information that my brain could process.

‘She gave me that confidence and I felt like a hero – I am just the bee’s knees sitting here on my horse.’

Tim Granger was diagnosed with dementia five years ago. His weekly routine involves going to the gym with a support worker who takes photos of his exercises to give visual prompts.

‘Exercise gives me pleasure,’ Mr Granger said. ‘It helps me do what I have to do and get things going. I couldn’t live without it, really.’

Dementia Australia

Lack of understanding is the problem

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said the survey findings are distressing for people living with dementia, however it would not take much to turn those findings around.

‘What these findings say is that discrimination stems from a lack of understanding and knowledge of dementia – what it is and how it impacts people,’ Ms McCabe said.

‘A little bit of support can make a really big difference to someone with dementia.

‘It could be as simple as giving someone space to do things for themselves, listening to the person, not trying to solve all their problems, giving the person time to find the right words or using technology to support someone in their day-to-day activities.

‘It really doesn’t take much. A little support really can make a lot of difference to someone’s life,’ she said.

To find out more about how to support someone living with dementia, you can head here.

Dementia Action Week 2020 is from 21-27 September, which includes World Alzheimer’s Day.

You can receive updates and a Dementia Action Week kit here.