Where to get support
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to do or where to go to get support for yourself, or someone you care for who has dementia.
Often within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, people can have multiple responsibilities caring for others, and balancing other work, family and community responsibilities.
Take it one step at a time.
Here are some ideas and tips about accessing support, either for yourself or others living with dementia, whether they have been diagnosed already or are showing signs that cause concern.
How do I know if I have, or someone I care about has dementia?
Only a trained professional can determine whether someone’s signs and symptoms could be dementia. So going to talk about what’s happening with a doctor is the first step. When you go, it’s important to take with you someone you trust who knows you well (for example, a close family member). Because dementia affects everyone differently, there are a number of ways that health professionals may decide whether a person has dementia. This could include assessments that check how the person is thinking or feeling. It’s important at this stage that the person can tell their story so the doctor can learn more about their history as well as their symptoms. There has been research done to develop assessment processes that work better for our mob and respect our stories, history and culture.
Are there traditional treatments or healing for dementia?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the longest surviving peoples on the planet. We have healing practices and treatments that are far older and developed than Western medical treatments.
We have an opportunity to understand and access both ways of healing and treatment. It’s important we take advantage of both, if we can.
Western medicine helps to identify what’s happening in our minds and bodies, and is an important step in understanding what might be happening. Western science doesn’t really understand our traditional ways. But that doesn’t mean they are not very important for our healing.
Traditional medicines and healing for our mind, body and spirit are still a very important part of who we are, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Make the best of both forms of treatment and healing if you can. Talk to a doctor to make sure you can get medical support if you need it. But if you’re also lucky enough to have access to traditional healing and treatments, these can form an important part of your wellbeing when living with dementia.
What can I do if someone I care about doesn’t want to get professional help?
It can be scary and confronting when people’s worlds start to change, or when they notice that things are happening to their minds, bodies or spirits that they don’t understand.
The best thing we can do is to continue to talk to people about how they’re feeling, and continue to encourage them to speak to a professional.
Some important tips to support someone to get help could include:
Try to understand what it must be like for them - imagine all of a sudden forgetting things, or being confused. Sometimes if a person feels like you’re looking at things from their perspective, they might be more willing to seek help with your support.
Try not to nag - gently continue to encourage them, but respect them if they’re not ready.
Think about time of day - often when someone experiences symptoms of dementia, there are different times of the day that might be better to have discussions about serious things. Everyone is different, so keep an eye on when the person seems to be feeling best to have the discussion. Often, the morning is better than the evening.
Give information - sometimes people might just need a bit more information about what’s happening for them. You could direct them to this website, or print out some information or diagrams to help them understand what might be happening. You could show them some of the videos and then sit down and ask them what they thought.
Talk about why you’re concerned - focussing on why you’re concerned, rather than what they are doing, can help to reduce any feeling like you are nagging. “I am worried because I’ve seen you getting very flustered when you…” rather than “You’re so forgetful and confused all the time!”. This type of language can make the person feel worse and less likely to seek help.
Give hope about their situation - let the person know that there are lots of things that may be done to help them feel better. Let them know that it’s important to make sure there are no medical things happening that might have solutions if checked out by a doctor or health professional. For example, a person might be confused due to an infection, or withdrawn due to depression. Getting medical advice could make their symptoms better.
Understand WHY they don’t want to see a doctor - are they worried about getting a dementia diagnosis? Are they scared about going to a doctor due to historical reasons? Do they feel shame because of some of their symptoms? Understanding why they don’t want to see a doctor is really important for someone trying to help, and can assist you in reducing any concerns the person might have.
Different care options
There are a range of options for caring for someone with dementia. Some of these include support for a person living with dementia in their home, services to help people get out into the community to do things they enjoy, home-based services to give carers a break, or residential care.
A lot of support can be provided in people’s homes and communities before a person might benefit from residential care. It is important for people living with dementia, as well as their carers and families, to discuss care options, and get information to help make decisions together.
If you have difficulty with accessing My Aged Care contact your local clinic for assistance.
Planning for the future
Once a person has a diagnosis of dementia, it can be a challenging and worrying time thinking about the future.
Often one of the biggest worries for someone living with dementia is being a burden on their loved ones. Having a yarn about the options, and planning for the future, can help make a difficult time a bit easier.
It can help to have a yarn while the person living with dementia can still make decisions about the future. This may include discussions about legal or financial matters, or about physical or cultural preferences relating to their care, for when they are not able to communicate their wishes anymore due to their dementia.
There are ways to capture what a person with dementia wants for their future while they can still make these decisions. It can be hard talking about it, so everyone involved needs to feel ready.