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May 13, 2021

Professor Graham Samuel says dementia care is personal

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Professor Graham Samuel AC addresses the National Press Club. Photo supplied.

In a moving address to the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, Dementia Australia Chair Professor Graham Samuel AC shared his personal experience of dementia – the anguish, bewilderment, frustration and torment experienced by his mother as she descended into the abyss of the disease.

Professor Samuel’s speech was titled ‘Dementia is not about them – it is about you and me’.

He spoke about the transformation of his mother, after his father’s death, from a powerful matriarch to a woman unable to do many things, and her subsequent fifteen years of ‘torment’.

Beyond his own family’s story, Professor Samuel commented upon the disgraceful treatment of the general Australian aged population, particularly in residential aged care homes exposed by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s Final Report: Care, Dignity and Respect.

Roadmap for the future

Professor Samuel called on the federal government to commit to making a difference to the experience of Australians impacted by dementia, and presented Dementia Australia’s plan for the future, which he described as ‘a roadmap for quality dementia care – achievable, sustainable and transformational – and absolutely essential.

‘Based on current statistics, it seems inevitable that every single family in this country will at some stage experience the torment and distress of a loved one being overtaken by dementia,’ said Professor Samuel.

‘With around 70 per cent of Australians living in residential aged care having some form of cognitive impairment, their families face enormous difficulties in providing support for relatives struggling with the memory loss and behavioural changes that accompany the disease.’

Professor Samuel noted that dementia is one of the largest health and social challenges facing Australia and the world, and also one of the least recognised or understood.

‘In economic terms alone, dementia costs the economy more than $6 billion in healthcare and loss of productivity every year,’ said Professor Samuel.

‘There needs to be continued focus on three priorities: research, dementia friendly communities and quality of care.’

Global collaboration needed

‘That’s why Dementia Australia is working closely with government and major philanthropists to bring about genuine global collaboration amongst researchers and clinicians in this area, to ensure that scarce research funds are applied to their most productive uses,’ said Professor Samuel.

Dementia can be a lonely and confusing road. Photo David Lowe.

‘We need to set up systems to ensure timely access to diagnosis, and a direct and clear pathway to early and ongoing supports and treatment services,’ he said.

‘We must train our workers and develop and embed a set of robust, evidence based and practice informed dementia friendly design standards.

‘The government has a responsibility to let every Australian impacted by dementia know that support for them to remain in their home is available and appropriate, and if they move into residential aged care that they will receive the care, dignity and respect they deserve.

‘I call on every member of parliament to remember this is not only about people currently impacted by dementia – it is also about what the future holds for all of us,’ concluded Professor Samuel.

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