Educating aged care workers on dementia can reduce discrimination, poor mental health and social isolation for people living with dementia in residential aged care, says the head of Australia’s dementia advocacy body.

More than two-thirds of people living with dementia anticipate they might experience discrimination, according to Dementia Australia’s Discrimination and Dementia – enough is enough report.

The report, which was launched last week during Dementia Action Week, shows that three-quarters of respondents who identified as at risk of dementia expect to be treated differently if diagnosed with dementia.

The report is based on a survey of more than 900 respondents, including people with dementia, family carers, family or friends of a person with dementia, healthcare professionals, and those not impacted by dementia, about dementia, discrimination and the impacts of COVID-19.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said educating aged care workers about dementia was the critical aspect to addressing discrimination.

“Aged care workers are amazing; they really are and they do an incredible job. And often in many of the courses as part of their training, dementia is not part of mandatory training but it needs to be,” Ms McCabe told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“The more education people have about dementia, the better they will be able to prevent [discrimination] arising, work with them if they do, and then address them and just have a good outcome for the person living with dementia and staff and families as well,” Ms McCabe said.

Maree McCabe

More than five in six respondents living with dementia feel that people patronise them and treat them as if they are not smart (87 per cent), according to the report.

And more than nine in 10 respondents who have a loved one with dementia say people don’t keep in touch with the person living with dementia as much as they used to (91 per cent).

Ms McCabe said people living with dementia and their carers often share that family and friends withdraw when they let people know about the diagnosis of dementia.

“They’re excluded from family events from social functions and friends and family stop popping in. And it is something then that becomes such an issue in terms of their own social isolation, which can then of course lead to depression and that can increase some of the symptoms of dementia,” she said.

Recent lockdowns have exacerbated social isolation, with reports of poorer mental health and loneliness due to COVID from around a third of respondents living with dementia (37 per cent) and family carers (32 per cent).  

Similarly, physical wellbeing has also declined due to COVID-19 restrictions for about a third of family carer respondents (34 per cent) and people living with dementia (30 per cent).

Ms McCabe said social isolation is debilitating physically, emotionally and mentally.

“The thing that we need to get is that we are social beings and it is so important that people have contact and that we do everything that we can in our power to ensure that people get that, and that they are cared for in the most respectful and dignified manner,” she said.

Education can help staff understand this, Ms McCabe said.

“The more equipped our staff are with knowledge and information, the better they will be able to provide care. And if we get care right for people living with dementia, we get it right for everyone,” she said.

Dementia Action Week took place on 20 – 26 September.

Access the report.

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