When a person is diagnosed with dementia, it’s not just them affected by the cognitive changes they experience – it’s also affects the family and the carers who care for them.

One of the challenges that many carers face is when their loved one go through behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Associate Professor Colm Cunningham spoke at the Dementia Care Delivery Summit about a case study from Dementia Support Australia.

A/Prof Cunningham is the Director of the Dementia Centre at Hammond Care, and his talk focussed on supporting carers of people with behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Funded by the Federal Government, Dementia Support Australia is a support services that carers can access for should they find themselves challenged by certain symptoms that are impacting on their care.

One of the important factor of dementia support, for people living with dementia and their carers, is having personalised support.

“What we mean by that,” explained A/Prof Cunningham, “is that it’s really important that we aren’t seeing cookie-cutter advice that is being given again and again and again. It needs to be individualised.”

A/Prof Cunningham told a story about “Jack”, who was referred to the program, exhibited agitation and aggressive behavior, with a number of incidences of violence towards staff and carers.

Within 48 hours a support team from Dementia Support Australia were present to assist Jack on a one to one basis.

A/Prof Cunningham warned that the DSA isn’t always appropriate to call upon as there are times when emergency services must be the first call. DSA is not a replacement for 000.

Most aged care services are equipped to care for people with Alzheimer’s disease, or even Vascular Dementia. Jack had frontotemporal dementia, which many aged care staff aren’t adequately trained to support.

A comprehensive assessment was done over two days, particularly to see what tools the aged care facility use to help Jack.

“At the end of the day, the service will be working with people for only a period of time. What we ultimately need is people from a day to day basis to provide the picture of what is going on – we need to involved the staff and family members,”

“What we found with Jack was that people were off-side – people were afraid of him and they couldn’t see beyond that”

It was found that there were a number of contributing factors impacting Jack – environmental, biological, social, things involved in communication and also staff no understanding the variance of dementia that Jack.

Jack’s room was in a high traffic area. He was get stimulated and irritated by all the noise and interactions happening around him. Especially with some residents accidentally entering his rooms.

Biologically, Jack was on a range of medications where not all of them were helping. And that was one of the first things that needed to change, so his medication scheme was reviewed and tailored accordingly. For Jack, pain was found to be one of the biggest problems for Jack.

In terms of social aspects, the activities that were offered to Jack were not appropriate for him considering his particular symptoms.

By relocating Jack’s room, changing his medication and bringing his family on board to be more involved made a great difference in Jack’s symptoms and behaviors.

Finding the best care for a person with dementia, is done on a trial and error basis, “there will be things we try, that we later find do not work,” said A/Prof Cunningham.

It was emphasised that the most effective way to help a person with dementia, is to help the people caring for them – to “get alongside the service and provide aged care facilities and the family with better care”.

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