KNOWLEDGE of dementia – which is the second leading cause of death in Australia – is on the rise.
However, people are reporting that it’s a challenge supporting or communicating with someone living with the disease, a new survey has found.
This comes as updated figures reveal there are more than 436,000 Australians now living with dementia – estimated to be more than 250 new cases every day.
This number is projected to increase to 590,000 in just 10 years and almost 1.1 million by 2058.
In the Federal electorate of Perth there are an estimated 2567 people living with dementia, which is expected to increase to 3298 by 2028 and 6474 by 2058.
The survey, Inclusion and Isolation: The contrasting community attitudes to dementia, and updated figures were released to coincide with World Alzheimer’s Day, Friday September 21.
Scientia Prof Henry Brodaty AO, Dementia Australia honorary medical advisor said with the prevalence of dementia increasing it was vital that all Australians understood how they could make a difference to people living with the disease.
“The figures show that all Australians will be impacted by dementia in some way through caring for someone, knowing a friend or family member or receiving a diagnosis themselves,” Prof Brodaty said.
Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said one of the biggest issues people face following a diagnosis of dementia was social isolation, as friends, family and their community struggle to understand how to best support and continue to include people living with the disease.
“Dementia can be one of the most profoundly isolating conditions, despite the fact it is impacting so many people,” Ms McCabe said.
“What has been heartening to see, though, is that 80 per cent of people surveyed had heard of dementia and, of those people, a further three in four people were able to correctly identify basic facts about dementia.
“Despite this knowledge, it is concerning that four out of five people surveyed believe that others feel uncomfortable around people with dementia and two in three believe that individuals have a negative perception of people with dementia.
“When we explored this further in the survey, it really came down to people saying they just weren’t sure how to talk to someone with dementia.
“More than 60 per cent of people said they didn’t know what to say to someone with dementia, while more than 50 per cent said they were worried they wouldn’t be understood, that they would say the wrong thing or that they might hurt the feelings of a person living with dementia.”
Phil Hazell, who was diagnosed with younger onset dementia in 2015, said he was lucky to have an understanding employer and a loving family that supported him when he was diagnosed.
“When I sat down to tell my mates I did sense them having difficulty with the conservation,” Mr Hazell said.
“We all had some awkward moments; disbelief, not knowing how to react.
“I’m not saying the situation was easy but me being open about my predicament helped them to understand dementia and how they could support me.”
As part of Dementia Awareness Month, Dementia Australia is asking the community to pledge their support to become a Dementia Friend, which gives people a better understanding of dementia and, through that, empowers people to do small, everyday things that can make a difference to someone living with dementia.
More than 5000 Australians have already signed up to become a Dementia Friend.
Find out more, and sign up, at http://www.dementiafriendly.org.au