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Hi. I'm Doctor Andrew Rochford.
I want to ask you a question: have you ever met someone whose life has been affected by dementia?
The odds are, you have.
There are more than two hundred new cases of dementia diagnosed in Australia every single day.
Right now it's actually the largest cause of disability in people over the age of sixty-five.
These days we're all living longer - which is great news - but an ageing population means we're more and more likely to meet someone with dementia in our daily lives.
Just because the risk of dementia increases with age, it's not a normal part of ageing.
It's a disease.
In fact, younger onset dementia can affect people in their fifties, forties, or even in their thirties.
And this can make it hard to recognise.
When you or I meet someone with an illness or a disability that makes life a challenge for them, we tend to adapt the way we work to try and help them out.
But if it's not obvious that a person has dementia, how are you going to know?
When we talk about dementia we're actually talking about a range of diseases that can affect the brain in different ways.
Some can make it hard for a person to make new memories. Others can make it hard to communicate, and can make even simple situations become confusing and aggravating.
The information in this resource will help you to recognise the signs of dementia. It'll also help you think about how you can minimise the impact of dementia in your own day-to-day life.
Let's say you're having a busy day. The last thing you need is to deal with someone who's confused, agitated, or uncooperative.
So what goes through your mind when someone asks the you same question over and over again? What if they're angry? Or rude?
Is your first reaction one of frustration? Maybe you'll talk louder, or faster. You might even get angry yourself - after all, what reason could there be for someone to act like that?
Well, one reason could be dementia.
When a person has dementia, their behaviour isn't always their fault. Dementia can make everyday situations seem confusing, and sometimes even frightening.
But it's also a progressive condition. A person in the early stages of dementia can have good days and bad days. Things might even change over the course of a single day.
So if a person with dementia wants to enjoy any more of the active lifestyle you or I take for granted, they're going to need something from the people around them: patience.
Now lets look at some scenarios, where you could encounter dementia in your day to day life.
Listen to the audio version of the transcript (right click & save target as to download)
A bright, sunny day in a tree-lined suburb. As cars whoosh past, an older woman in a hat and scarf steps up to a bus stop and signals for it to stop. In one hand she pulls a shopping basket. Behind her, sitting on a bench, sits a bearded man in a suit and tie holding a bunch of flowers.
The bus pulls to the stop with a squeal, and the woman ambles on board, followed by the man in the suit. She drops her coins as she fumbles to put her ticket in the machine, and the man stoops to pick them up for her. The bus driver leans around to watch, as the machine rejects her ticket, and she turns it around to reinsert it, as the man offers her the coins. She takes them, and backs her way to the seat.
The driver asks "Ticket mate", and the male passenger responds "Oh, sorry." The older woman puts her purse back in her bag as the bus takes off down the road.
A pair of teenage boys sit midway up the bus, sharing their earphones, one of them putting a stick of gum in his mouth. A young woman looks up from her iPad, glancing sidelong at the older woman, who sits grimly with her hands on her shopping basket, the male passenger behind her. The bell sounds, and the "next stop" sign lights up. The driver indicates, brakes, and pushes the door release button. The doors open, and he glances in the mirror. Nobody gets up. He turns over his shoulder, to see the young woman glance around. The teenage boys laugh at each other. The driver turns back and indicates, driving away again. The other teenage boy sticks his gum under his seat. The bell sounds, and the "next stop" sign lights up again. The driver indicates, brakes, and glances in the mirror as the doors open again.
When no one gets up, he looks over his shoulder. The teenage boys stare out the windows. The young woman looks up from her iPad, and over her shoulder. The old woman stares straight at the driver, who asks, "Is this you?"
She shakes her head, and nods subtly over her shoulder at the man in the suit, who stares out the window, distracted. The driver asks, "Is this you mate?" The man looks over slowly, and shakes his head, saying, "No."
The driver turns back, the doors close, and as he drives on he glances in the mirror. The man in the suit pushes the button – to which the young woman reacts sharply, asking, "Hey, are you getting off this time? Are you getting off here?" The man asks back, "Are we nearly there darling?" She scoffs, saying "Don't call me darling," before returning to her iPad, shooting him an annoyed glance.
He lowers his eyes and says "Sorry."
The driver glances in the mirror, watching this. The old woman and the teenage boys stare at the man, and the driver stops the bus, standing to address him. "Are you OK there mate?"
The man nods, saying, "Ah, yes."
The young woman butts in, "He keeps ringing the bell!"
The driver holds up a hand calmly, saying "I know." He turns back to the man, asking, "Where are you getting off?"
The man replies "Not until the city."
The driver says "I'm not going to the city, mate, I'm going by the airport."
The man nods, and says "OK" as the young woman butts in again, saying "You're on the wrong bus!"
The driver holds up a hand, sighing, and says "Thanks." To the man he asks "Have you got somebody that can pick you up?"
The man glances around, uncomfortably, and says "I don't know."
The driver continues, "Maybe a family member can come and get you?"
The man glances around again, saying "I don't know."
Nodding, the driver calmly says "OK, you just sit tight there, alright?" They nod at each other.
The driver sits in his seat again, speaking into his radio as the man sits, uncomfortably. The driver says, "Depot, driver T1. I've got a gentleman who's a bit confused about where he's going."
On the radio, the depot operator responds, "OK T1."
The driver continues, "I'm not too happy about dropping him off at a stop, he seems a bit disoriented?"
The depot operator replies, "OK T1, stand by."
The driver says, "I'm trying to get a contact number from him, for maybe a family member?"
The depot operator says, "OK T1, if you get a number let us know and we'll try and get in contact with someone for you."
The driver says "Thanks," and hangs up the handset, turning back to the man to say, "Just sit tight there, OK mate?"
The man whispers back, "OK." The driver indicates and drives on, as the teenage boys put their earphones back in. The old woman stands, rings the bell, and says to the young woman "This is my stop. I am getting off." As she walks by, the young woman smirks to herself. The bus continues on down the road.
Listen to the audio version of the transcript (right click & save target as to download)
A young bearded man in a suit, tie and glasses, walks quickly through the aisles of a convenience store to the counter, a magazine under his arm. As he gets closer he sees a woman with a full trolley moving towards the only available checkout. He speeds up, but she gets there before him, and he rolls his eyes.
An older, well-dressed woman, walks straight to the checkout in front of the woman with the trolley. The man says, "Hey!"
The checkout operator, a young, bored-looking woman, says, "I'm sorry, I think this lady was first." The first customer waves, and says, "Oh, no, that's OK." The checkout operator asks, "Are you sure?" and she replies, "It's fine." The operator, nonplussed, says, "OK" and the young man says, sarcastically, "Fine."
The operator packs a shopping bag and taps on her console, saying, "That'll be seven ninety five, do you have any rewards cards today?" She looks up, and the customer looks confused, asking, "Sorry?" The operator repeats, "Do you have any rewards cards today?" The customer nods, confused, saying, "OK." The man sighs, impatiently, saying, "For goodness sake!"
The first customer turns to him, indignantly, and with a hand on her hip glances at his magazine, saying, "Men's Health. You in a hurry?"
The operator repeats, "Do you have any rewards cards?" and the older customer shakes her head, saying, "No." The operator taps on her console, asking, "Would you be interested in our two for one chocolate special today?" The customer nods, distractedly, saying, "OK. OK." But when the operator reaches for the chocolates she shakes her head, saying, "Oh, no, no."
The operator puts them back, and says, "That'll be seven ninety-five, were you paying EFTPOS or cash today?" The customer opens her purse and searches, slowly. The operator glances around, impatiently, and repeats, "How are you paying today?" The customer hands over a ten dollar note, and a credit card. The operator looks at them both, shakes her head, and hands back the credit card. The customer takes it, confused, then hands it back to the operator again.
The operator frowns, asking, "Were you paying cash today?"
There are now two more customers behind the young man, who says, "Could we hurry this up? I'm in a bit of a rush." The first customer turns to him again, indignantly, and glances at his magazine. He says, sheepishly, "It's for my wife."
The operator says, "Just one moment sir, I'm just serving this lady." The older customer turns to the young man and asks, "Do I have to give you something?" He replies, "No! You've got to give it to her! Can you be quick please?"
The operator looks the customer in the eye and asks, "Were you paying cash today?"
The customer nods, and replies, "Yes." The operator takes the change and hands it to the customer, who reaches for it, but drops it on the ground. The first customer steps over to help her pick it up, as the young man says, "For goodness sake!" While the first customer is helping the older woman, he takes the opportunity to slip forward in the queue. The operator leans over to the stressed older woman and says calmly, "Don't worry, it's fine!" The customer hands the change to her, but she shakes her head and hands it back, saying, "No, no, this is yours!"
The operator hands the shopping bag to the customer and says, "There you go." The customer says, "Thank you," as she walks away, to which the operator replies, "No problem!"
The young man steps forward, smiling. The operator glances at him, and says, "Sorry sir, I think this lady was next." She glances at the first customer, who smiles at the young man. He walks to the back of the line, annoyed, as the first customer steps forward and begins unpacking her trolley, asking, "Can I get some bags please?" The operator replies, "No problem."
By the time I finish this sentence, someone else in the world will have been diagnosed with dementia.
That's one every seven seconds.
This means within thirty years there will be more than one hundred million people living on the planet with dementia - more than four times the population of Australia.
So if you don't know someone with dementia yet, you will soon.
Remember: not all forms of dementia are the same.
Some might make it hard for a person to remember something that just happened, even though they can remember things that happened years ago.
But in other forms of dementia, memory loss might be less noticeable than sudden changes in mood, dizziness and unsteadiness, or even hallucinations.
Think about it this way: have you ever had one of those dreams where no one could understand what you were saying, no matter how hard you tried? You wake up, confused, and realise that none of it made any sense - but it felt real to you at the time.
Sometimes that's how a person with dementia feels. Remember, what they're feeling makes sense to them, even if it doesn't to you.
Sounds confusing, doesn't it?
Now consider this person surrounded by noise and distraction: in a shopping centre, for instance, or a busy workplace. That's what I'd call a challenge.
But it's the challenge that a person with dementia faces every day.
So what can you do to make life a little bit more fulfilling?
When you find yourself faced with unusual behaviour - it might be confusion at simple instructions, or repetitive questions - ask yourself the question: could this be dementia?
A person with dementia will find it much easier to understand you if you speak calmly and in short sentences. It helps to maintain a friendly attitude, in your body language and your eye contact.
If possible, you could even help by moving the conversation away from any distractions or loud noises. If a person with dementia is older, maybe you could take them somewhere they can sit down: it can all help to make communication easier - for both you and them.
The main thing is to be patient. We all lead busy lives, and it's not always easy to consider the reasons behind someone's behaviour.
For more about communication, you can go to the "Additional Information" section on this resource.
No matter how independent a person with dementia is, they rely on the care of their friends, families and their communities. Everyone deserves the chance to get the most out of their lives, and with a little effort you can be a big contribution to that.
As the population ages, you're more and more likely to come face to face with dementia. It could be in your work, but it might also be in your everyday life. It might even be a friend or a family member.
If you feel the impact of dementia, how do you want your community to respond?
Understanding dementia won't just help you deal with situations in the workplace - it helps reduce the impact for everyone.
So next time you find yourself faced with unusual behaviour, why not ask yourself: could this be dementia?