Maree McCabe AM was delighted when the confronting ABC series You Can’t Ask That profiled dementia with interviewees responding to queries including, ‘When did you realise you were losing your marbles’. The CEO of Dementia Australia says the program provided a much-needed opportunity to talk about a disease that people don’t like to face.
There are so many myths that circulate about dementia.
'One of them is it's just a little bit of memory loss and you're really okay. No, it's not. It's the second leading cause of death in Australia after heart disease and the leading cause of death of women in this country, it's a disease of the brain. It's progressive and it is life limiting,’ Maree says.
One of the challenges is that dementia is an umbrella term for about 100 different types of disease, and whilst Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, all present differently with symptoms that can be characteristic of other diseases. This not only makes it difficult to diagnose, but it can mean people put off investigations into their symptoms, fearing it may lead to a dementia diagnosis.
‘Not everybody will have memory loss with dementia. That's a characteristic of Alzheimer's disease and particularly short-term memory loss. So, please get it checked out. It may not be dementia. It may be other things and we need to know what these things are so that we can best support people to ensure they get appropriate treatment and referral,’ Maree says.
Other signs of dementia could be a change in mood or behaviour.
- Over the age of 65, dementia affects almost one person in 10
- Over the age of 85, dementia affects three people in 10.
- People under the age of 65 can develop dementia (called ‘younger onset dementia’), but it is less common.
- It’s rare for dementia to be hereditary.
- Dementia is not a normal part of ageing
Dementia Australia is the gateway to support and services that can help you to live well with dementia. Call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500. It is staffed 24-hours a day, all year round.
‘But with all of the dementias, it always involves a loss of function. So, things that the person could once do and were quite adept at, they're no longer able to do,’ Maree says.
For example, they may be unable to find their way in a place they know well, or forget how to cook a familiar meal, lose motivation to do anything, or start to isolate and avoid social settings.
The statistics are staggering.
Currently about 480,000 Australians are living with dementia and about 1.6 million people are involved in their care so it’s vital that the community becomes more educated and less fearful about the disease, Maree says.
‘People need to understand that the person that they know is still there. They may need assistance with things as the disease progresses, but they are still there, and they need you in their lives as the disease progresses.
‘The more we support people and the more we understand, the better able we are to provide support in a way that works for people living with dementia and also their carers.’Maree McCabe, AM Chief Executive Officer Dementia Australia
Reviewed 04 July 2023