We often think of dementia as a loss of memory that happens to old people – but in fact it is more than that – and there are many people who are affected by early onset dementia as early as their 40s.
‘The Northern Rivers has a large population of people living with cognitive impairments and dementia,’ said Karen Harborow the Dementia-Friendly Communities activity coordinator at the Byron Shire Respite Service in Brunswick Heads.
‘A diagnosis of dementia, especially at a younger age – can be devastating and really isolating, but the right support in the early stages can make the world a brighter place for people and their loved-ones impacted by dementia in our region.’
What is dementia?
According to Dementia Australia it is a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain, it is not one specific disease. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life.
The most common causes include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Living in the community
While people with dementia remain living in the community, in their own home or with family and friends, there are a range of services and support available. These include respite for carers, home care, social support, day-centre programs, counselling for both carers and people with dementia and advice from dementia specialists.
Local resident Jenni, who has early on set dementia, says that, ‘When I first knew things weren’t right in my head and I was having a tough time, I got a bit of help to lean on, and I was introduced to available support.’
Jenni continues to live in her own home with her children and grandchildren but says she ‘didn’t know what to expect when I stopped working. It has been really good for me to hang out with other people, and useful for me to hear their stories.’
Working with local communities
Karen and Byron Shire Respite Service are currently working with Dementia Australia to help raise dementia awareness in the Northern Rivers.
‘It is concerning that some people with dementia and their carers living in our community are not accessing support for fear of judgemental attitudes and stigma associated around a diagnosis or suspected dementia.
‘We are currently working with local communities, businesses and individuals to become “Dementia Friends” and promote inclusiveness to improve the lives of people living with neurodegenerative conditions,’ said Karen.
‘Dementia-friendly communities can help reduce the stigma of dementia, as well as encourage people from diverse cultures including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex communities, people that are Culturally and linguistically diverse and people living with neurological diseases, to seek support and remain socially engaged, to live life to its fullest.’
‘Raising awareness and keeping physically and mentally active also helps to promote healthier living and reduce risk factors for dementia.’