September is Dementia Awareness Month
This Dementia Awareness Month I would like to raise awareness about ONE BIG LIE told about dementia:
There is no point getting a diagnosis of dementia because there is nothing you can do anyway.
This is a lie. And it is not helpful.
Getting a diagnosis is so important. I understand that some people choose not to seek a diagnosis as they do not think that there is anything to be done, or that they don't want to live with the stigma associated with a diagnosis of dementia. But there are many things that can be done.
It is true, there are currently no cures or treatments available to reverse the effects of dementia. But there are available drug treatments to slow the progression of some causes of dementia. That is why investigation into dementia type is so important. Dementia has a number of causes and the progression and symptoms associated with each can vary quite dramatically. In Australia, government-funded Memory Clinics can assist with diagnosis and testing, as well as provide support to people diagnosed with dementia and their families. I would encourage you to seek support via one of these clinics should you have concerns about your memory or the memory of someone close to you.
There are also many non-drug interventions to keep an individual with dementia socially connected and engaged in their community. Maintaining social connection has been found to be important for the quality of life of people with dementia- as it is for my own quality of life! We are no different in that sense. Presence of dementia does not mean that an individual with dementia no longer desires social connection.
There are many strategies that have been proven to support people with dementia in everyday conversation. Use of these strategies doesn't require any extra time or resources, just a little bit of extra self-awareness. There is a wonderful video (a fun and engaging quick draw) created by Dr Susan Lane, that describes a Canadian program of evidence-based communication strategies for family members of persons with dementia. I have attached it here. It describes some really simple strategies that family members, friends and care/support staff could use to 'maintain the connection' with a loved one with dementia. I have been using these strategies for many years, particularly in my past work as a Speech Pathologist in a rehabilitation hospital, and more recently as a volunteer in a long-term care facility. I find these strategies invaluable and I often revisit this video for a refresher every now and then.
There is a lot that can be done. Some of it is as simple as thinking about how we talk with and about each other. And there is an army of researchers and clinicians worldwide (both people with and without dementia) who are working everyday to improve diagnostic procedures, interventions and policies that effect the lives of people with dementia. It might have been the case 10 years ago that getting a diagnosis was of limited value because there was little that could be done... but in 2017 this is just not true.