Focus Care

A Complete Guide to Dementia Care

Dementia can be overwhelming or even scary when you don’t have all the right information. However, when you understand the condition, your options and all of the different stages, you can begin to put your mind at ease.

If you’re concerned for yourself or for a loved one, we’ve compiled a list of our most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to help you find the answers you may be looking for.

THE SYMPTOMS, TYPES & STAGES OF DEMENTIA

What are the early signs that my loved one may have dementia?

The early signs and symptoms of dementia can vary a great deal and be very subtle. While there are many warning signs some things to look out for include:

  • Memory loss that impacts day-to-day function. A person with dementia may forget things more often, such as the location of household items, or not remember them at all for periods of time.

  • Trouble performing familiar tasks. People with dementia can get distracted from time to time with everyday tasks. For instance, they may forget to serve part of a meal.

  • Language problems. It’s common to have difficulty remembering words every now and then. But a person with dementia may forget simple words or start to mix up words.

  • Confusing places and times. It can be the case that a person with dementia may forget how to get to a familiar place like a restaurant or house, or feel confused about where they are

What are the non-memory related symptoms of dementia?

The brain and body are incredibly connected. Some non-memory related symptoms of dementia include:

  • Loss of balance or coordination

  • Stiff muscles

  • Shuffling feet

  • Trouble standing or sitting up in a chair

  • Weak muscles and fatigue

  • New sleeping patterns

  • Incontinence

  • Twitching or even seizures

  • Weight loss due to eating less

  • Poor hygiene

It’s important to note that unrelated conditions can also worsen because your loved one may forget to take their medication or neglect overall health.

Can younger people get dementia?

Younger people can have dementia too. ‘Younger onset dementia’ is the term used to describe those under the age of 65 years who have been diagnosed with one of its forms.

Estimates suggest as many as 25,000 Australians as young as 30 years old may be living with younger onset dementia, and it causes its own unique challenges. People in this age group are often still working, raising families or they may have other caring responsibilities.

This can be a scary time for families, but the good news is that we at Focus Care can help you. We know that you may have different concerns than an older person with dementia might. We can help you manage the logistics of staying employed, looking after your children or socialising.

The main financial difference is that government support is covered by the NDIS rather than Aged Home Care Packages.

What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that Alzheimer’s disease can fall under. Dementia is the group of illnesses, and therefore not a disease in itself.

Alzheimer’s is a disease; a specific form of dementia that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease. Early symptoms include difficulty remembering new information, because it typically affects the part of the brain associated with learning first.

As it advances, symptoms get more severe, to include:

  • Disorientation and confusion

  • Behaviour changes

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Difficulty walking

  • Difficulty swallowing

You cannot prevent, cure or even slow Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia can occur due to a variety of causes, including Alzheimer’s disease, but also Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and others. Each of the different kinds will have a slightly different treatment approach.

There are over 400 different types of dementia.

What are the 3 stages of dementia?

Dementia is a progressive condition. There are 3 main stages.

  • Early Dementia

  • Moderate Dementia

  • Advanced Dementia

In the early stages, they may start to change in small ways. Losing motivation, joy and forgetting a few things is common. They may blame you for stealing lost items.

By the moderate stages of dementia, their behaviour and actions become more unusual and inappropriate. They may:

  • Get lost easily

  • Forget recent events

  • Repeat things

  • Wander around in clothing not suitable for the weather

  • Begin to neglect proper hygiene

  • Not be eating properly

  • Be easily upset and confused

The later stages involve far more severe loss of function. Your loved one may struggle to do basic tasks by themselves, such as dressing, going to the toilet, speaking or walking. They might become aggressive, and completely change personality.

DEMENTIA CARE

Is there a cure for dementia?

Unfortunately, there is still no cure for dementia. However, the condition can be managed. At Focus, we use the Montessori approach to manage dementia and help to maintain our clients’ independence for longer. Please view our page about Dementia Care at Focus for more information.

What is the Montessori approach to dementia care?

Focus Care champions the principles of the Montessori method. We’ve developed a specialised Montessori for Dementia Program for people with dementia who want to remain independent at home for as long as possible.

We work with an individual’s strengths and interests, focusing on the very essence of what makes a person unique. This supports memory loss to create an environment that promotes independence and the best possible quality of life for people living with dementia.

We focus on your loved one’s hobbies and activities they were engaged in and enjoyed when they were younger. This can unlock memory, cognition and verbal skills. Being engaged in environments and locations that hold historical significance for individuals including the sights, sounds and scents can also increase recall and slow cognitive decline.

What government help is available for dementia care services?

Government-funded Home Care Packages are designed to help older people pay for home care services. These financial packages give seniors access to a range of home care services. These include:

  • Domestic assistance

  • Personal care

  • Community integration

  • Allied health

  • Transport

  • Shopping

Our government packages can also be put towards our specialised Montessori for Dementia Program.

If you are approved for a Home Care Package, you may also be eligible for the government’s Dementia and Cognition Supplement for home care. It helps with the cost of caring for people with moderate to severe cognitive impairment from dementia. You can find out if you are eligible on the government website.

For more details, please read our complete guide to at-home aged care.

Why choose home care rather than move my loved one into residential care?

  1. Familiar surroundings
    Being in a familiar environment is very important for a person living with dementia. When taken out of their home and away from the place they know, people with dementia can experience a fast cognitive decline.

  2. Care management
    If your loved one is getting frustrated or agitated, it could be that they’ve forgotten something simple, like where the mugs belong in the kitchen or where the bathroom is located. An experienced Care Manager can identify the problem and add visual prompts to assist your loved one to get on with their day.

  3. Tailored care
    Each person living with dementia displays different behaviours and experiences different challenges. One-on-one specialised care at home allows for care services and methods to be tailored to your loved one’s needs.

  4. One-on-one support
    One-on-one care at home also allows for close monitoring of changes to your loved one’s condition. Subtle changes may not be so easy to pick up on in a large residential facility

ADVICE AND RESOURCES FOR FAMILIES

A family member is displaying the early signs of dementia. What are some strategies I can use to broach the subject of dementia with them?

  • Have the conversation early on, so that you can start getting help before cognitive decline worsens.

  • Be supportive, so that your loved one doesn’t feel alone.

  • Familiarise yourself with the early signs, which we have featured in this guide.

  • Do your research so that you can provide reassuring information to the person who might be affected by dementia

  • Don’t diagnose them yourself. Seek appropriate professional help, by seeing a doctor. It is best to ask them to go themselves, but if they won’t, you can approach their GP with your concerns.

  • Plan specific, natural ways to begin the conversation. You can say generic things such as “I’ve been thinking about my care plans for when I’m older. Have you thought about yours?”. Alternatively, you could gently ask whether they’ve noticed the same changes in themselves that you have.

  • Make sure the right family member starts the conversation. If you know that they particularly get along with someone, that should be the one you choose.

  • Encourage open, non-judgmental dialogue. Let them know that anything they say won’t be the cause for you to write them off or give up on them.

  • Be prepared to give examples as to the reasons for your concern

  • Explain the next steps. Often, people with dementia may jump to the worst-case scenario, or simply not understand. Tell them about the different kinds of help you can offer.

  • Be prepared for the fact your loved one may not be self-aware and might feel like they’re being cornered.

  • Accept that things may not go well.

  • Expect an element of upset, defensiveness or denial.

  • Look after yourself – these are challenging conversations. You can’t help others if you’re under too much strain yourself.

What should I do if a loved one is defensive or in denial that they have dementia?

It can be difficult and frustrating if your loved one isn’t acknowledging or accepting that they have dementia. This could be something they’re doing on purpose because they feel it’s embarrassing, or they may simply lack insight.

You should approach your concerns in a gentle and supportive manner. Keep a diary of events, so that you can back up what you’re saying with examples. Make sure you’re showing concern, and not that you’re spying on them.

Encourage your loved one to see a doctor. You can do this by appealing to their compassion. Say something like “it could get us some support that might help me understand some changes I’m seeing…”. If this fails, you can consider speaking to their doctor yourself.

How should members of my family talk to our loved one with dementia?

Speak to your loved one with kindness and patience. They are still the person you’ve always loved.

  • Speak clearly and slowly

  • Give them time to reply, so there’s no pressure

  • Make eye contact

  • Try not to correct them too much

  • If something seems out of context, ask gentle questions

  • If you need an answer, give simple options for your loved one to choose from

  • Never draw attention to their mistakes

  • Rephrase questions and reassure when they’re confused

  • Let them speak for themselves wherever possible

  • Be careful not to patronise

How can I make a home more dementia-friendly?

Some small changes to a home can make a huge difference. Your aim is to make it as confusion-free as possible.

  • Put up signs that will help your loved one with daily activities

  • Make sure the home is clutter-free

  • Label household items and cupboards that your loved one uses often

  • Ensure the home is well lit

  • Think about positioning furniture in a way that doesn’t pose risk.

For a lot more detail, you can consult our guide to making a home dementia-friendly.

What is the best way to care for my loved one living with dementia?

  • Empathise with them and understand

  • Know that there are good days and bad days

  • Know the symptoms beyond the memory loss

  • Accept support from others

  • Make the most of in-home care

  • Plan for the future

Should I expect my loved one to become violent or aggressive?

Everyone reacts differently to difficult situations. The same is true of people living with dementia. Not everyone is going to get aggressive or violent, but it could happen – and it varies from person to person as to how often.

Mood swings can be part of the diagnosis. Your loved one may say unkind things, or act very differently than the way you’re used to. Remember, if this happens, it’s because of their illness and associated confusion. Show empathy, always, or it can lead to more frustration.

Where else can I find great resources on dementia?