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Avoiding dementia discrimination: how to treat someone with dementia

Blog post | 19 Sep 2019

To mark Dementia Action Week 2019, Australians are being urged to look at how they treat people with dementia.

Sadly, it's not uncommon for people living with dementia to be excluded from social situations or have assumptions made about them. Hence this year's theme: 'Dementia doesn't discriminate. Do you?'

Dementia Australia CEO, Maree McCabe, says that everyone can choose not to be discriminatory towards individuals who are facing the chronic disease, which affects almost half a million Australians.

The group is also seeking to understand how discrimination towards people with dementia occurs by inviting the community to complete a short survey. You can take part too.

People with dementia are often ignored

”A person living with dementia might be ignored or dismissed in conversations," says Ms McCabe. “Sometimes people, without realising, will talk directly to [the person's] carer as if the person living with dementia is not even there.

”Assumptions might be made about a person's capacity to contribute to conversations, decision-making, whether they can still drive, cook or even continue to work. Friends and family might stop calling or inviting a person living with dementia to social occasions — not out of deliberate neglect but possibly out of not knowing how to include them."

According to a 2016 study conducted by Dementia Australia, people with dementia are:

  • more than twice as likely not to see friends when compared with their carers and the general public
  • more than 3 times as likely not to have a friend to confide in when compared with their carers and the general public
  • almost 3 times as likely not to have a friend to call on for help when compared with the general public

Not surprisingly, social isolation can put a person at risk of becoming lonely. Chronic loneliness can lead to poor mental and physical health.

Dementia is not just 'an older person's disease'. There are an estimated 27,247 Australians living with younger onset dementia – which describes any form of dementia diagnosed in people under 65 years. —2019 Dementia Australia Prevalence Data

How to communicate with a person with dementia

Even when a person might not understand everything you are saying, they still have feelings. It's important to help them retain their dignity and self-esteem.

Follow these tips from Dementia Australia:

  • Remain calm and talk in a gentle, matter-of-fact way.
  • Keep sentences short and simple, focusing on one idea at a time.
  • Always allow plenty of time for what you have said to be understood, and for the person to give a response.
  • It can be helpful to use orienting names and terms whenever you can, such as 'Your son, Jack'.
  • Where appropriate, touching and holding their hand may help keep their attention while also showing you care.
  • You may need to use hand gestures and facial expressions to make yourself understood. Pointing or demonstrating can help, as can a warm smile.
  • Try to avoid competing noises such as TV or radio.
  • Staying still in the person's line of vision while talking will make you easier to follow.

What not to do:

  • Don't argue. It will only make the situation worse.
  • Don't order the person around.
  • Don't tell them what they can't do. Instead state what they can do.
  • Don't be condescending or talk down to someone. A condescending tone of voice can be picked up, even if the words are not understood.
  • Don't ask a lot of direct questions that rely on a good memory.
  • Don't talk about people in front of them as if they are not there.

For more information

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