Undoubtedly not a diagnosis that anyone wants to receive. But please do not despair.
There are many lifestyle factors that can be employed that will help you and your loved ones cope, and keep you living at home for as long as possible.
But firstly, a little bit about dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a syndrome, a collection of neurodegenerative symptoms characterised by deteriorating intellectual functioning.
Neurodegenerative refers to the progressive degeneration and/or death of nerve cells, that results in ataxias (problems with movement), or dementia (problems with mental functioning).
Dementia is an umbrella term for various diseases leading to brain failure that can cause confusion, disorientation and memory loss, and affect physical functioning, problem solving, intellect, social skills, communication, and the ability to rationalise. Sometimes people undergo a personality change as well. Memory loss alone does not mean you have dementia.
The World Health Organisation state that consciousness is not clouded in dementia, meaning that consciousness remains undisturbed. This means that although memory, capacity or judgement are impacted, the person remains awake and alert.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for approximately 65% of all dementias. Other types of dementia include dementia with Lewy Bodies, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, dementia with Parkinson’s disease, and several other conditions.
(Read more about Alzheimer’s Disease click here).
Dementia can cause someone to experience depression and delirium. But depression and delirium do not necessarily lead to dementia. Sometimes depression can be missed in a dementia diagnosis. If you, or your loved ones, notice depression-like symptoms please discuss these with your medical doctor immediately. Get a second opinion if you feel you were not listened to, or you are sure that something is not “right”.
Dementia is usually chronic (long-standing) and usually progressive (meaning it will get worse). It can take years for dementia to be noticeable and diagnosed. Once diagnosed it can progress quickly. This is due to the fact that once diagnosed the dementia is already advancing. Currently there is no known cure. The bad news is that dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia. Some dementias are reversible, but generally speaking, most are progressive and irreversible.
There are medications available that can help slow the progression of some types of dementia, but these medications are not effective in every instance. Meaning, they don’t work for everyone.
There are currently more than 413,000 people diagnosed with dementia in Australia. Dementia is most common in those aged over 65 years. However, it can affect anyone. Currently we have over 25,900 people with Younger Onset Dementia in Australia. Most people diagnosed with younger onset dementia range in age from 30 – 65.
What should I do after my diagnosis has been confirmed?
- Talking through the situation with a professional is a great place to start to make sure you receive all the information, and set up all the support necessary, to make living at home successful for you and your partner/family.
- Engage someone to complete a your Life Story book, and Advanced Care Planning documents, with you to ensure your needs and desires will continue to be met once you are no longer able to communicate effectively. This is a very important step and will make a huge difference to your quality of life as the dementia progresses.
- Spend time looking at the practicalities within your home:
- Install rails if you have any steps
- Make light switches stand out from the wall colour so they are easy to find
- Keep floor coverings the same colour, and even, so that there is no confusion about where to step, and to eliminate tripping hazards
- Replace patterned curtains and bed coverings with a bold simple colour scheme
- Purchase a day/night wall clock so that you know if it is 10.00 in the morning, or the evening
- Replace toilet seats if they blend in with the colour of the bathroom too much, and install a grab rail
- Replace bathroom towels if they do not clearly stand out from the rest of the bathroom
- An “all-white” room and fittings makes it difficult to focus on what the room contains, and to distinguish items
- Put large and clear picture signs on the toilet and bathroom doors – this makes it easy to understand which door to open
- Clearly label whitegoods and other household items
- Seek the assistance of an Occupational Therapist to help with the above items.
- Get exercising – exercise boosts oxygen production throughout the body, and positively impacts brain function. Studies show that exercise gets your brain working at optimum capacity as it helps nerve cells to multiply, strengthens their connections and protects them from damage. Brisk walks, swimming and gardening all contribute towards healthy bodies and brains. Yoga and Tai chi also have the added benefit of helping us balance, reduce our stress levels, as well as strengthening and stretching our bodies.
- Change your diet – increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Many studies now show that consuming a predominantly plant-based diet improves not only our brain health but overall health. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, eat nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains such as brown rice to slow cognitive decline.
- Preserve your brain with Omega 3 essential fatty acids. The best source of Omega 3 is flaxseeds (linseeds). 250mg of ground flaxseeds per day is all you need for your daily Omega 3 dose. Other foods high in Omega 3 include walnuts, chia seeds, soybeans (including tofu and tempeh), pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, macadamias, spinach, kale, cauliflower and broccoli.
- Exercise the brain with regular reading, undertaking puzzles and learning new skills or languages.
- Do something fun – keep dancing, singing, playing cards, playing golf – keep doing what you love every day.
- Plan some time to research alternative living options now. If you were not able to continue living at home in the future, wouldn’t it be great if you and your family had already found a suitable facility that you are happy with?
- Get your affairs in order. Now is the perfect time to make sure your will is up to date, and you have financial and medical Power of Attorneys in place.
Our highly skilled dementia consultants are here to support you all the way. We work closely with you and your loved ones to ensure the best outcomes to keep you safe and happy in your home environment. We can answer all your questions, and develop your This Is Me Journal (your life your way) with you. We can assist you to complete any Advanced Care Planning documents if needed, and source experienced care workers who can help you at home.
To find out more about what the This Is Me journal, and how this can greatly help you, please click here.
To find out more about Advanced Care Planning, please click here.
 Morris, D. (2003). Dementia. Doctor, 614-622