Over 447,000 people in Australia have dementia. Health Direct Australia reports that nearly one in ten people over age 65 have dementia.1 There could be nearly 600,000 Australians with living with dementia by 2028.2 As such, dementia is the greatest cause of disability for older Australians, and it can also affect younger Australians. Families may notice signs of dementia in their loved ones before a physician makes a formal diagnosis.
What is dementia? It’s not one specific disease, but instead, a collection of symptoms resulting from different brain disorders. Dementia affects behaviour, thinking abilities, and the ability to perform normal daily living tasks. It also affects social, work, and family relationships and abilities.
As symptoms of the condition become more noticeable, it can be difficult to accept that loved ones are experiencing problems with their thinking ability, memory, judgment, and emotions. Early signs of dementia include, but aren’t limited to:
- Personality changes
- Apathy and withdrawal
- Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks
- Progressive memory disturbances/memory loss
As dementia develops, your loved one could have increased difficulty paying attention, planning, learning new things, and can lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Each person is individual, and while some people’s dementia symptoms will progress slowly, others may experience more rapid declines in cognitive ability, memory, and ability to live independently.
Some medications can help some forms of dementia, but it isn’t curable. Dementia can be managed with in home care and support, and people with dementia can continue to have a good quality of life and live at home. Once families come to accept that dementia is part of their loved one’s life, they can begin to care more effectively for them, and also provide care for themselves. And, it’s also important to remember that family members who are caring for a loved one with dementia, need self-care and respite for themselves.
Managing dementia at home
People with dementia can continue to live at home with in home care and support, and what’s more, their quality of life will be greatly improved by living in a supportive and appropriate home environment.3 A positive, caring environment can help people with dementia to maintain their quality of life as long as possible. Keeping ties with family and friends and staying in a familiar environment is a crucial part of aged care and helping people with dementia to have the best possible quality of life.
First, you can consider creating a “dementia-friendly” environment in your home. A “dementia-friendly” environment keeps familiar objects and furnishings and eliminates unnecessary or potentially dangerous appliances or clutter.4 In addition, a dementia-friendly home should:
- Provide support for the activities the person with dementia enjoys
- Provides an easy way to support activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, and eating
- Provides assistance with safety, security, and independence
People with dementia can have difficulty with changes, and they may benefit from helps such as clearly labelled message boards, clocks, or signs. Don’t be afraid to improve lighting or use labels on everyday items. The first time a loved one with dementia puts salt in their coffee, the way that labels on common items could help will become clear.
You can make every area of your home “dementia-friendly” room by room and consider the outside of your house as well. Simple changes to your dining room, bedroom, and bathrooms can help make life easier for your loved one with dementia, and you as a caregiver, as well as other caregivers who may be visiting your home.
Safety is a concern as dementia progresses
It can be difficult to understand that your loved one who may appear physically well, needs extra safety precautions. You should consider safety first and understand that someone with dementia is no longer able to understand or undertake precautionary steps, such as testing bath water for excessive heat, that were once second nature.5 Key safety areas for precautions include:
- Fall prevention: Install safety rails wherever needed. Remove throw rugs, extension cords, or clutter such as boxes and lampstands which could cause trip and fall accidents. Install handholds in the bathroom or any other areas where they could be needed.
- Prevent poisoning or accidents with hazardous materials: use locks on medicine cabinets, and on cupboards or cabinets containing hazardous substances. Don’t neglect storage areas for cleaning supplies or flammable materials.
- Prevent burns and fires: keep your hot water temperature at a safe level, install hot water cut-off devices, and take fire safety precautions. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and check their batteries regularly.
Reach out for home care supports as needed
Family members need support to care for their loved one with dementia, and they also can’t be expected to be able to fulfill every one of their loved one’s needs at all times. Home care supports can help a person with cognitive impairments to stay at home safely and comfortably as long as possible.6 In addition to respite care, which is very important for the well-being of caregivers as well as those needing care, you can receive therapeutic and interactive services to enrich your loved one’s life. In addition to therapeutic services, some home care technologies that can benefit people with dementia include:
- Communications support, including tools and devices that can help assist with communications
- Home technology to improve safety
- Monitoring systems to help prevent or respond quickly to falls or prevent night-time wandering
- Item finders
- Orientation clocks for day and time reminders
Help with preparing meals, cleaning, and daily errands can provide needed respite for dementia care givers. You can choose the amount and level of support you need for your loved one and for yourself if you are a caregiver.
At some point in time, your loved one with dementia may no longer be able to live at home, and you will need to consider next steps. However, many people with dementia can live at home with home care for a long time. Their abilities may become more limited as time goes on, but with proper safety precautions and a dementia-friendly environment, people with dementia can enjoy life. Their caregivers can enjoy life as well and have respite from their duties as needed thanks to aged care and at home care services. Even people with Alzheimer’s disease can enjoy life at home with their family as long as proper precautions have been taken and daily care is provided and well-managed.
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