Dementia Support Services
Caring for someone with dementia can be difficult and, at times, overwhelming. Many organisations provide services for people with dementia and for their families and carers.
Almost everyone worries about their memory as they get older. There is a difference between age associated memory lapses, ‘senior moments’, and early dementia. If it is dementia, it is important to find out what the cause is as sometimes it can be reversible.
There over 100 types (or causes) of dementia, Alzheimer’s being the most common. Diagnosis involves taking a history from someone who knows the person with memory loss well, doing some tests of memory and other cognitive (thinking) functions and arranging investigations.
A diagnosis is only the first step. There is so much that can be done to help the person with dementia and family members such as practical measures such as arranging enduring power of attorney and enduring guardianship, checking whether it is safe to continue driving or working, and making plans for the future. Remember dementia is a word not a sentence.
- Four drugs are licensed for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. They are not cures, only symptomatic treatments. Three of them – donepezil or Aricept, galantamine or Reminyl , and rivastigmine or Exelon – work by boosting one of the chemicals that is most severely reduced in Alzheimer’s disease. The fourth drug, memantine or Ebixa, blocks excess amounts of damaging chemicals, is approved for more severe Alzheimer’s disease and can be given in combination with one of the first three.
- New drugs which may modify the disease process or even be cures are under trial. Participation in trials is restricted by the trial sponsors to certain stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Dementia is generally a slowly progressive condition with time from onset of symptoms to death lasting from a few years to a decade (depending on age of person when dementia starts).
- As dementia progresses, people require assistance with complex living skills (such as finances, medication, transport) and later with basic care (such as dressing, toileting, showering). In the later stages, family care may be too much for any one person to handle, and residential care is required.
- Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia such as wandering, aggression, calling out, sleep disruption, hallucinations, delusions and apathy are very common. These symptoms can be very stressful.
Alzheimer's Australia in each State and Territory can help you understand what is happening and can provide emotional support, information, advice and counselling. You can contact them directly on the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or on www.alzheimers.org.au.
Throughout Australia, there are support groups for people with dementia, and for their families and carers. Many people gain enormous comfort and practical assistance from attending these meetings with others who share similar experiences.
Carer support groups bring together carers, relatives and friends of people with dementia on a regular basis under the guidance of a group facilitator. This is usually a health care professional or someone with first-hand experience of caring for a family member. There is no charge for attending. To find the location of your nearest support group, contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
Alzheimer's Australia provides a free specialist counselling service for people with dementia, family members and carers. This provides the opportunity to talk through emotional, practical and family issues in confidence.
These services will also offer help and support:
- Your family doctor —the GP is usually the first person that people talk to about their concerns. A doctor may assess the person for dementia and can refer them to a specialist. The family doctor will most likely be the main health professional providing ongoing health care for both the person with dementia and his or her family member.
- Specialist assessment – may be through a Memory Clinic, neurologist, old age psychiatrist (psychogeriatricians) or geriatrician.
- Aged Care Assessment Service (ACAS) — the family doctor can refer a person with cognitive impairment to the ACAS team, or they can be contacted directly. ACAS teams (also called ACATs) are made up of doctors, social workers and other health professionals who can help work out what kind of care will best meet needs when extra assistance is required. They will ask a series of questions in order to find the best care option for the person with cognitive impairment.
- Community Nursing Service – this service provides home nursing, assistance with medication, advice and referral.
- Day centres, respite care – can also help families cope.
- Other health services – such as physiotherapy, podiatry, speech and occupational therapy are available to assist people with dementia and to advise their carers.
- Dementia is common and its diagnosis and care are complex.
- Much can be done to improve the quality of life of the person with dementia and for the person’s family.