‘Dementia: When statistics take on friendly faces’

May 16, 2020
Source: Getty Images

The statistics for dementia in Australia are challenging and we all know of families who have had to deal with a diagnosis. Families are likely to notice changes in behaviour about three years before a diagnosis is confirmed.

Bluntly the statistics are these:

  • 1 in 10 over-65s has a diagnosis of dementia
  • It is the greatest cause of disability for over-65s
  • It is the leading cause of death among females
  • There are more than 100 causes of dementia.

It is little wonder then, for those of us in our 70s, that the statistics are taking on the faces of friends and family.

I speak to my sister-in-law about every 10 days on the phone. Or rather, she speaks to me, telling me long involved stories about household maintenance or health care. She will have told me these stories the last time we spoke. Or if I do mention something we are doing, she will forget this has been a life-long interest and want to know when I became interested.

For the moment, she is living alone but confesses to notes taped up around the kitchen as reminders. She has always been one who remembered everyone’s birthday, but now will often forget those most dearly loved.

Every fortnight I send my cousin a postcard. We were once regular correspondents by snail mail well into the age of Facebook and email. These days a crippling disease has left her unable to write, she has been diagnosed with a form of dementia complicated by heavy drugs for her health.

She lives in a nursing home where her daughter and granddaughters visit regularly. Once a bright, vivacious companion over the last years she has become critical and judgemental. It is hard on the family.

A friend has had a referral to see a specialist after an initial scan showed cause for worry. His referrals keep running out. He repeats stories often in the course of the same conversation.

He has made questionable financial decisions, refuses to let his adult children who still live at home, help. He rings up to worry about if he’s paid his bills. He loses his car in a car park, and doesn’t recognise it when his son finds it for him. His friends worryingly give advice.

While it is sad to see these statistics brought home, the Dementia Australia site assures us that dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. In fact, one of my great pleasures is to have a long and lively phone conversation with my 90-year-old aunt and uncle.

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Do you have concerns about dementia or Alzheimer's disease? Is there a friend or family member in your life with the condition?

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