When an individual is diagnosed with dementia it can be an extremely emotional period of time for both the individual and their family. The decision of whether or not to move the person with dementia into residential care or in-home care comes after, as the requirements to care for someone with these illnesses can be challenging.
What is a Dementia Specific Aged Care Facility or Unit?
A dementia specific aged care facility is a care unit that is specifically designed for a person with dementia, and is usually run in tandem with residential aged care homes. Dementia care units can be classified as either low or high level depending on the care and medical services that are provided and have units designed specifically for those living with dementia.
If you or a family member are in need of assistance in dealing with dementia symptoms, it may be a good idea to look into a dementia care facility or unit to provide specialist services and quality care.
Not all people with dementia require a specific dementia unit. Individuals who require special care or who may not be safely accommodated in aged care or general residential facilities are best suited for these units.
To understand the importance of dementia specific care units, here is an overview of what dementia is:
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a condition that involves the loss of cognitive functions – remembering, reasoning and thinking – that is caused by disorders affecting the brain. Brain function begins to deteriorate to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s everyday life, activities and behaviour. However, dementia is unique in that it is a collection of symptoms rather than one specific disease.
These symptoms range from people being unable to control their emotions to dramatic changes in personality. The severity of these cognitive disruptions begins in mild stages affecting a person’s functioning to severe stages where they must completely rely on others to live.
It is essential that a medical diagnosis is conducted at an early stage when symptoms first appear, to ensure that a person who has a treatable condition is diagnosed and treated correctly with support and medication if necessary.
Types of Dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to classify multiple neurological conditions that pertain to the global decline of the brain and cognitive functions. Types of dementia can be more or less severe depending on the variety of symptoms a person may experience, and type of dementia may impact the type of care provided within a care facility.
- Alzheimer’s disease: caused by abnormal blockages of proteins in the brain, known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Alzheimer’s is most common in older adults and are best suited for dementia aged care.
- Vascular dementia: a form of dementia associated with conditions that damage blood vessels in the brain or interrupt the circulation of blood and oxygen. Vascular dementia is more common in men than women with smoking, high blood pressure and mild warning strokes being factors that increase the risk.
- Frontotemporal dementia: frontotemporal lobar degeneration is a rare but progressive disease that damages the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain and occurs in people younger than 60. Frontal lobe damage can lead to reduced intellectual abilities and changes in personality, emotion and behaviour. Temporal lobe damage can lead to difficulty recognising objects or understanding or expressing language.
- Lewy body dementia: caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and abnormal deposits of alpha-synuclein. These proteins may contribute to the death of brain cells.
- Argyrophilic grain disease: a neurodegenerative disease that is common in older people and characterised by the presence of argyrophilic grains.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: a rare brain disorder that may occur spontaneously by having infected tissue in the brain. Conditions worsen rapidly causing many to lapse into a coma.
- Huntington’s disease: a progressive brain disease that is inherited.
- HIV-associated dementia: a rare disease that occurs when the HIV virus spreads to the brain.
What is Mixed Dementia?
It is common for people diagnosed with a form of dementia to have more than just one. Most people over the age of 80 have mixed dementia which is caused by the loss of nerve cell function and nerve cell death.
Early Signs of Dementia
Dementia is thought of as an older person’s disease as it is more common after the age of 65. However, dementia can happen to anybody, people in their youth can also be diagnosed with dementia. No matter when you are diagnosed, it is important to notice the early signs of dementia to find appropriate medical support. These signs can be very subtle and vague if not noticed and can become severe if not treated correctly.
Some common symptoms may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Slight memory loss
- Progressive and frequent memory loss
- A decline in cognitive abilities
- Poor judgement and confusion
- Personality change
- Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks
What to Look For in a Dementia Specific Residential Facility
When looking for a dementia specific residential care facility you should first be advised by the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT). This team will suggest that you browse through a variety of dementia specific residential care and dementia aged care will provide you with contact details for appropriate facilities.
The ACAT will also determine the level of care needed by the person living with dementia in respect to their needs and will recommend and provide facilities that may be suitable. It is always important to trust your intuition when looking for residential care facilities for a person with dementia so looking through several facilities is a great idea. If they are struggling with the initial stages of moving ensure they are always with at least one person while introducing them to the facility gradually.
Here is a basic guide of what to seek out when looking for a facility for you or your loved ones:
- A new facility that encourages residents to get involved.
- Provide quality care including personal grooming and individual rooms
- The right for a resident to have their own bedroom with bed sitting rooms and familiar bed coverings. It is also important for a person with dementia to have their own belongings with them as familiar surroundings like family photos help with worsening symptoms.
- A residential care facility that has a structured environment and community care with the opportunity for residents to make new friends, meet other residents and encourage residents to pursue positive aspects of socialising.
- Staff that are specialised, personal care assistants that can assist with medical conditions and have a strict medication policy, are able to communicate well with both the person and involved family members.
- Adequate support in the initial moving stage.
- Family rights to visit frequently.
- Other services like access to religious beliefs and respite care.
Dementia Care in Australia
Dementia Australia has been moving leaps and bounds to provide quality dementia care in Australia based on the views of people living with dementia and addressing the gaps where carers and families are involved. Their main goal is to outline solutions that have been made clear by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the current systematic failings in aged care where dementia has not been a core thought.
Dementia Australia has been working with sector partners and people living with dementia and have developed an integrated “Roadmap for Quality Dementia Care.”
The Australian Government’s Department of Health implemented the Dementia and Aged Care Services (DACS) Fund to support senior Australians who are dealing with dementia. The DACS Fund aims to provide support for older Australian’s through government policies and Australian Government Funds. This includes funding ongoing programs and targeted one-off community-led activities.
The DACS initiative supports activities that respond to existing and emerging challenges in aged care, including:
- dementia care
- better services targeting people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds
- special measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
The DACS Fund priority areas include:
- older Australians with dementia and people at risk of dementia
- older Australians with diverse social and cultural care needs who are sick or experiencing or living with medical conditions
- special measures targeted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- activities that help the Australian Government inform itself about aged care
Caring for Someone with Dementia at Home
One of the hardest things for families to do is to visit their loved ones in a nursing home and not know how to interact on converse with their loved one anymore. Sometimes when an individual is struggling with being away from their family or is too ill to move it is more beneficial to care for them at home.
Caring for an individual living with dementia in their own home can be rewarding and challenging as the role can bring personal growth and bring you closer to your family. However, this role can also be stressful, frustrating, fatiguing, and bring on pressures that previously would have been easy to handle.
Becoming a Carer for a Family Member
Becoming a home carer for a family member requires patience, compassion, kindness and selflessness towards the carers own emotions. It can be a difficult yet rewarding experience but not a decision taken lightly as it can be emotionally and physically draining.
When becoming a carer for your family members you must:
- Manage your time effectively
- Cope well with behavioural changes
- Manage changes in communication
- Prepare your home with familiar objects and activities.
- Organise activities and spend meaningful time with those experiencing dementia, like gardening or listening to their favourite music.
- Care for your own mental health as well as the individual you are caring for.
- Asking for help and support services when you need it
- Have resilience and a positive outlook.
Support Services for Dementia Patients Living at Home
Sometimes, as an individual’s dementia progresses you will need assistance in caring for your family member or friends.
Dementia Support Groups
Dementia support groups and networks for people with dementia and their partners, carers or friends are a great way to feel reassured by others who share similar experiences.
Dementia Australia also offers the National Dementia Helpline if you are in immediate need of assistance.
Respite Care and Short-Term Stays
For a carer, it is important to recharge even if it is just for one night, to ensure you are giving your loved one the best care possible. You are able to arrange respite services and programs so that you can not only take care of your loved one better but also yourself.
Carers programs across Australia provide respite services and support for carers.