Breaking down the stigma around dementia to ‘make a positive difference’ to those impacted

Sep 19, 2023
It's crucial to raise awareness and understanding about dementia as it not only affects individuals but also their families and communities. Source: Getty Images.

A recent survey has revealed that nearly one-third of Australians harbour apprehensions towards individuals living with dementia. In light of these findings, Dementia Australia is urgently rallying councils, businesses, community groups, and leaders across the nation to take proactive measures and encourage change within their communities to become more accommodating to those affected by dementia.

Expressing her concern, CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe AM, highlighted her alarm over the survey results, which indicate that 32 percent of Australians now find individuals living with dementia unsettling, marking a significant increase from the 23 percent reported a decade ago.

“There is also research, commissioned by Dementia Australia, showing that 80 per cent of those with a loved one living with dementia felt that people in shops, cafes and restaurants treated people with dementia differently,” McCabe said.

“These are our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours now and in the future, it could be anyone reading this who might be diagnosed with dementia.

“These are devastating findings. This fear leads to stigma and discrimination which can have a real and distressing impact on people living with dementia, their families and carers. People may avoid seeking critical medical and social support and become increasingly socially isolated.

“Dementia is a largely invisible disease and what we can’t see, we don’t understand and what we don’t understand we are often afraid of and then avoid.”

With approximately 400,000 individuals in Australia grappling with dementia, a staggering 70 percent of them residing within our communities, McCabe emphasised the profound impact this issue is having on families nationwide.

“The good news is, there are so many simple things we can do every day to change this,” she said.

“We have the resources and information freely available on our website for anyone to make a start.

“Inspiring our communities to become more dementia-friendly – where people living with dementia are supported to continue to live their lives in the communities they know and love; where they are supported to continue to contribute to those communities, they have been part of their entire lives – can be so simple and empowering for all involved.

“We must act now for a dementia-friendly future. After all, a dementia-friendly future is one that is better for everyone in the community.”

McCabe previously told Starts at 60 that, “more awareness about dementia can make a positive difference to the lives of people who are impacted by this condition and help eliminate discrimination”.

In light of this, Starts at 60 spoke further with McCabe as part of Dementia Action Week (September 18-24) in order to gain a greater understanding of dementia and stamp out some misconceptions about the condition to ensure those impacted by the condition are treated with the respect they deserve.

A big part of understanding dementia is being aware of the symptoms. However, the most common symptoms of dementia can be subtle, presenting a challenge to those affected by the condition in recognising the early warning signs.

Adding further fuel to the fire is the fact that conditions such as depression, infections, and vitamin and hormone deficiencies can also produce similar symptoms to those associated with dementia.

While the signs and signs can be subtle, some common symptoms of dementia can include:

  • Memory loss.
  • Changes to problem-solving abilities.
  • Difficulty in completing everyday tasks.
  • Confusion regarding time or place.
  • Difficulty understanding what we see (objects, people) and distances, depth and space in our surroundings.
  • Difficulty with speech, writing or comprehension.
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  • Decreased or poor judgement.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  • Personality and mood changes.

Enhancing public awareness of the signs and symptoms of dementia will undeniably provide valuable support to those affected. McCabe further highlights that “no matter who you are or how you have been impacted by dementia” there are a number of support services available.

“The National Dementia Helpline is a free telephone service that provides information and advice to people living with dementia, people concerned about changes to memory and thinking, people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), family, friends and carers of people living with dementia and people who work in health and aged care,” McCabe said.

“The National Dementia Helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please call 1800 100 500 if you need information or support.

“In addition to sharing information and advice, the team can also provide emotional support and guidance, connect you to Dementia Australia and community support services and programs and discuss government support.”

It’s crucial to raise awareness and understanding about dementia as it not only affects individuals but also their families and communities. By creating dementia-friendly environments, being inclusive, and understanding the signs of dementia we can break down barriers and ensure that everyone impacted by the condition is treated with respect.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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