Sep 26, 2023

Anxiety, hallucinations, aggression and more — understanding changed behaviours

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There is a growing desire in the community for older people to be cared for in their own homes rather than go into aged care. [Image: Supplied]

Key points:

  • In the past 12 months, over 350,000 unpaid carers living in Australia — typically family members — supporting people living with dementia at home.
  • Figures released in early 2023 by the AIHW revealed dementia is now the leading cause of disease burden for older Australians.
  • About 70% of people with the disease live at home — with most carers being their own children.

In 2022, over 400,000 Australians were estimated by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) to be living with dementia — a number which is expected to double in the next 30 years. Despite the prevalence of dementia, there’s still so much left to learn about the condition.

Dementia is often associated (in simple terms) with a progressive loss of cognitive functions — memory in particular — as one gets older. Yet, Dementia Support Australia’s (DSA) campaign aims to highlight a range of other behaviours it hopes will help to better understand the disease and help carers in identifying and managing symptoms when they arise.

Associate Professor and Head of Clinical Services at DSA Steve Macfarlane said that someone’s preconceptions about dementia and ageing vary across cohorts, along with a cultural overlay for people of a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background. 

“There’s cognitive decline and then there’s dementia, a large portion of the community still equates a degree of cognitive decline with normal ageing, which, although there is a certain drop off in mental performance due to ageing of the brain — dementia itself is not a normal process,” said Dr Macfarlane. 

DSA Head of Professional Services, Marie Alford said there is a growing desire in the community for older people to be cared for in their own homes rather than go into aged care.

“As part of this, the numbers of older people living with dementia at home will grow sharply,” Marie said.

Identifying the symptoms

The changes featured in the national campaign are known collectively as behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia {BPSD]. Symptoms may include agitation, aggression, anxiety, apathy, hallucinations, disinhibition, and changes to personal care or sleep.

“Up to 90% of people living with dementia will experience BPSD at some point in their journey with the illness,” Ms Alford said. 

As part of the campaign, DSA has teamed up with leading geriatrician and Senior Research Fellow Professor Sue Kurrie, to present a series of online video resources offering carers specific advice on the range of different behavioural and psychological changes they may face. 

The “Dementia can affects us all’ campaign provides an authentic message about dementia and the behaviours of those who live with it.

Free support is available through the Dementia Support Australia website and 24/7 helpline (1800 699 799). Through reaching out, carers will be able to tap into a network of professionals who can assess BPSD symptoms and tailor assistance to suit their situation.

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