You've probably heard older people joking about having a 'senior's moment' or putting their car keys in the fridge. But dementia — a group of diseases that affect memory, thinking and behaviour — isn't a joke and it isn't a normal part of ageing.
There are more than 400,000 Australians currently living with dementia and without a medical breakthrough, the number is expected to exceed 1 million by 2058.
There are many things you can do to help others living with dementia — and ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia.
Embracing technology is a good start.
Make visits fun with this app
If you have a relative or friend with dementia (which includes Alzheimer's disease), you might struggle to interact or communicate with them during visits. That's where A Better Visit comes in. The free app features simple games, such as Tic-Tac-Toe, that are designed to be played by people living with dementia and their support network. Dementia Australia, Swinburne University of Technology, and a Victorian residential care facility collaborated on A Better Visit, which is available for download free on most Apple (iOS) devices.
Design a dementia-friendly home
About 2 in 3 people with dementia live in the community. Using software created by Deakin University, The Dementia-Friendly Home app allows carers to see how a home can be modified to suit a person with dementia. For example, glass-fronted cabinets can help a loved one find kitchen items easily, while installing a sensor light in a bathroom that turns on automatically will allow a person to use the toilet during the night. The Dementia-Friendly Home app is available for download on most Android devices ($2.99) and Apple (iOS) devices ($1.99).
Every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops dementia.
Tech-free ways to ward off dementia
If apps are not your 'thing', there are more traditional ways to help protect against cognitive decline. There is no known way to prevent dementia or Alzheimer's, but these suggestions may reduce your risk — or keep the condition at bay for a few more years.
- Challenge your brain Whether it's learning a second language or how to play a musical instrument, learning any new skill builds new brain cells and strengthens the connections between those cells.
- Connect with others Research shows that having close relationships, being married and spending time with friends and family decreases the risk of developing dementia.If you don't have loved ones nearby, join a recreation or social club, befriend neighbours or get to know the staff at your local café.
- Move your body There is strong evidence that regular physical activity improves brain function by boosting blood flow to the brain and stimulating the growth of new brain cells. You don't need to train like a Navy Seal; just find a form of exercise you enjoy.
- Try the Mediterranean diet Rather than a fad diet, this is a style of eating typical to the Mediterranean region, which is rich in healthy fats (found in olive oil and fish) and antioxidants (found in tomatoes, beans, nuts and blueberries). There's evidence that eating more of these foods — as well as fewer saturated fats and takeaway foods — can promote the growth of new brain cells and reduce the risk of dementia.
- Check your hearing People with mild hearing loss are more likely to develop cognitive problems and perhaps dementia since it impairs a person's ability to remember what they have just heard. Older people should have their hearing checked regularly and everyone — young and old — should protect their ears from noise caused by TV, ear pods and loud music at concerts.
For more information
- People living with dementia, health professionals and carers, family and friends can visit Dementia Australia for information, support and services.
- If you have any questions about dementia, you can call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays).
- From aged care facilities to meal delivery to specialists, you can find health services near you using the healthdirect service finder.
- If you're caring for a person with dementia and need help accessing the right advice, services and support, visit Carer Gateway.
- My Aged Care is the starting point to access government-funded services for older Australians.