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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.
We know emergency incidents are stressful for everybody involved.
But a person with dementia might not respond to the emergency in the same way as other people.
Dementia can affect a person's ability to make decisions and follow instructions. It might make them frightened if approached by someone in uniform, or confused by loud noises and emergency lights.
It might not be obvious that a person in uniform is there to help them - for them a uniform might mean they are in trouble or under attack.
As you watch the following videos, think about what might seem out of the ordinary, and how you might be able to help a person with dementia.
Listen to the audio version of the transcript (right click & save target as to download)
A firefighter captain, in full safety equipment, breathing tank and helmet, pulls down the cover on an equipment panel at the side of a fire appliance and marches towards the picket fence of a house. Smoke is billowing from it as he ducks under the emergency tape surrounding the garden, and he comes face to face with an old woman. Behind her, neighbours are watching and pointing from behind the emergency tape.
The captain says, "Helen, you've got to stay outside, OK? Just back behind the tape please." She nods and moves away as he says, "Thankyou." He pulls his helmet visor down and marches into the dark house, through the smoke. Another firefighter addresses him as he passes, "Nearly done mate, there's some structural damage in the ceiling in the next room." The captain nods, replying, "Sure." He moves through the blackened hallway, inspecting the walls and ceiling. As he enters the kitchen, he scans around and notices a charred, smoking heap of ashes on the hob. Suddenly, a crash from the next room startles him, and he turns to watch two firefighters walk through, shouting "Careful of the roof mate!"
The captain turns back to a bench to see a photograph of a young woman, captioned "Leanne – Daughter". Scanning the ceiling, he turns his attention down to the floor, where he stoops to lift a smashed smoke alarm. He stares for a moment, long enough to notice the battery is missing. He stands and sighs, when behind him, Helen appears, asking "Excuse me, excuse me?"
He turns and says, "Helen! Look, you can't be inside yet – you need to stay outside until we tell you. Come on." He ushers her out as she asks, confused, "What's going on?" He replies, "Just follow me."
As they emerge outside he shouts to his teammate, "Paul? She came inside mate, she's got to stay out here please." Paul turns from the fire appliance and replies, annoyed, "Yeah sorry, I did tell her. She seems a bit rattled." The captain looks at Helen and speaks calmly and firmly, "Yeah, look, Helen it's really important, it's dangerous in there, you've got to stay back behind the tape until we tell you, OK? Thanks."
As he turns to move back inside, she asks, concerned, "Is Mum in there?" He hesitates, asking, "Pardon?" She nods, concerned, saying, "I think Mum might be in the kitchen." He looks at her, considering her age, and asks uncertainly, "Your Mum?" She nods. He leans in, calmly saying, "Helen, there's nobody in the house. OK?" She looks confused. He puts a hand on her arm and looks to his team for help, saying "Mate, could you just please keep a close eye on her until we're done?"
Paul turns and calls, "We're all done in there mate, the ambo's just turned up."
The captain ushers Helen down the porch, saying, "Just come down. Thanks."
The ambulance officer arrives and takes Helen by the hand, ushering her out the gate as the captain looks on. The other firefighters climb into the appliance as the neighbours leave the scene.
Listen to the audio version of the transcript (right click & save target as to download)
The city at night, cars cruising down streets bathed in phosphorous light. A young man walks with his arm around a young woman's shoulder outside a Chinese restaurant. They turn to look back, and the young woman calls out "Come on!" The young man shouts "Dude it's tiny, let's go!"
Their friend is crouched by a red car, rubbing a small scratch with his sleeve. He looks up, stands, and jogs after them as they enter the restaurant, glancing back over his shoulder as he enters. A screech of tyres, and a white hatchback slams into the side of the red car, shattering its windows and sliding it into a car parked beside it.
As onlookers stare, the young man re-emerges from the restaurant to stare in disbelief, as his friends appear behind him. Smoke rises from the white hatchback. Petrol drips on the ground.
Firefighters in full suits and helmets place emergency cones and lights on the ground around the accident, pulling emergency tape around a lamp post. Firefighters move swiftly towards the hatchback, peering in the windows, one of them dragging a hydraulic rescue tool to the car under the flashing lights of the fire appliance.
The young men and woman stand watching, on their phones. The firefighter captain instructs his colleagues, "Good work boys, let's get this door off." They use the hydraulic tool to pull the driver's door off, glass shattering in the process, as behind them a man in a polo shirt wanders casually past the wreck. A firefighter sees him, and calls to the captain, "Sam, I think that's the passenger."
Sam looks up and shouts, "Hey, mate, I need you to step right back from the vehicle please." The passenger glances up, dazed, then puts a cigarette into his mouth. Sam looks up again, and shouts as he approaches the passenger, "Hey! ‘Scuse me sir we've got a big fuel situation over here, I'm going to have to ask you to puts those away." He turns back to his team, pointing and shouting, "Mate, make sure you hold on to that nice and firm please." The passenger puts the cigarette into his mouth again, and Sam sees him, catching him lifting a cigarette lighter, saying sharply "Hey, ‘scuse me sir, just hand over your cigarettes, I'll take ‘em from ya." He turns to his team, shouting, "Jake, give us a hand over here, Jake, give us a hand!" He turns back to the passenger, confused, asking, "Do you – do you understand what I'm saying?" The passenger stares at him, dazed, nodding, saying, "OK. Alright." Sam nods, "Alright, Jake's going to look after you, thanks mate." Sam pats Jake on the back and moves back towards the crash. Jake moves towards the passenger, taking him by the hand and looking him in the eyes, saying, "I need you to move away, OK?" He pulls him away from the crash.
The young man and his friends look on, on their phones, upset.
The firefighters use the hydraulic tool to pull the door open, and Sam looks up from the work to see the passenger walking away – across the road, where cars are driving past. Sam shouts "Hey!" and runs to the passenger, shouting, "Excuse me, sir!" Sam takes him by the arm, pointing and saying, "Listen, we've got a busy road here, just come step over here again, please." The man walks with him back across the road. Sam lifts the visor on his helmet and asks, "Now, sir were you in this vehicle?" The passenger shakes his head, confused, replying, "I don't know."
Sirens sound behind them. Sam glances around, then motions for the passenger to follow, saying, "Alright, come with me." He takes him by the arm and walks him away.
A police officer rounds the corner of the block, and the young man approaches him, explaining, "We were just walking along and he came flying down the hill, I don't know what he was thinking!"
Same ushers the passenger to the police officer, who asks him, "Driver still inside?" The young woman talks over them as Sam replies "Yeah it looks like a possible heart attack but this passenger's been wandering all over the place, just needs someone to keep an eye on him." The police officer nods, asking, "Shock?" The young woman demands, "What about us?" Sam responds, "Well are you hurt?" She replies, "No." Sam says, "OK, well please stay back behind the tape until we look after those who are. Come on." He ushers the passenger to the police officer, who takes him by the arm and ushers him away from the crash. Sam adds, "Look he's not injured, but there's something else going on there." The police officer asks, "What do you think?" Sam replies, "Not sure." He frowns as he watches them walk away, then pulls his visor down and returns to the crash as firefighters move around the vehicles.
Lets have a think about what we've just seen. When a person seems confused, agitated, forgetful, uncooperative - could this be dementia?
Emergency incidents can make people feel scared and shaken. But a person with dementia might not understand the risks around them, and can have trouble following instructions. They might be confused and frightened, even by the people trying to help them.
People with dementia rely on the care of their friends, families and their communities. An understanding of dementia will help you protect the people in the community who are less able to protect themselves.
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?