Dementia isn’t a single disease; it is a broad term that describes a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. These symptoms can affect memory, the ability to think and process information as well as communication.
Dementia typically affects people over 65, however, during Dementia Action Week it’s important to note it can be diagnosed in people in their fifties, forties, and even thirties, which is called younger onset dementia. Dementia Australia estimates there are 487,500 Australians living with dementia, and approximately 27,250 have younger onset dementia.
This is the case with Vicki, a resident at Southern Cross Care’s Thornton Park Residential Care Home in Penrith.
Vicki’s daughters, Taylor, and Brooke were in high school when they noticed something was amiss with their mum, who was then in her early 40s.
Her behaviour began to change, something that alarmed the then 13-year-old Brooke.
“I would hang out with friends and their mums weren’t the same as my mum,” Brooke says “they were little things, and I started to wonder why.”
“We noticed she would often be talking to herself and would become highly agitated and angry over nothing,” Taylor says.
The family sought help, and Vicki was diagnosed with younger onset dementia.
As her condition progressed, her young daughters stepped in to care for her at home, with occasional visits from NDIS workers.
“It was so hard because we were so young at the time,” Taylor says.
“It was very stressful, as we couldn’t provide 24-hour care,” says Brooke. “There would be occasions we would come home, and she would be missing, she’d gone for a walk and couldn’t get back.”
Three years ago, the girls made the decision to move Vicki to Thornton Park Residential Care. Brooke says Vicki’s care is now at the highest it could be.
It is possible to live well with dementia, and Southern Cross Care takes a person-centered approach that ensures care is focused on the individual, not their condition.
This means treating each person with dignity and respect; understanding their history, lifestyle, culture, and preferences; looking at things from their point of view; providing them opportunities to have conversations and relationships with others; and ensuring they can try new things or take part in activities they enjoy.
The Engagement team offers tailored and targeted opportunities for residents, including large and small groups, interest-based individual and group activities, and independent leisure pursuits.
Jacqueline Quirke, the Engagement and Purposeful Living Manager at Southern Cross Care says, “Our model of care and engagement aims to ensure our residents and our clients can live their best life based on their individual needs and aspirations."
It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, something that suits residents such as Vicki.
“Kylie, the Lifestyle Coordinator at Thornton Park, is lovely,” Brooke says. “She goes out of her way to ensure mum’s interests are met, and we are really thankful she is there.”
Residents are the centre of our care model and the team at Thornton Park ensures each resident is provided with opportunities to engage in activities that meet their interests. For Vicki, this includes assisting staff with administrative tasks around the home.
“It’s nice to see mum engaging with staff and activities.”
Living well with dementia also means staying fit, and the sisters say Vicki is healthier now than if she had stayed at home.
“Before she moved in, she was underweight,” Brooke says. “I was in high school, and Taylor was at uni, and no one was home all the time to make sure she was getting consistent meals. Since she moved into Thornton Park, she has gained weight to a healthy level.”
“She is happy every time we are in there, laughing and carrying on and being herself,” Taylor says. “We feel like she is safe there.”
Dementia patients can find their surroundings confusing, disorienting and disabling, so their environment can play a big role in their well-being.
For further information on Southern Cross Care’s dementia care support please call us on 1800 984 475 or visit https://www.dementia.org.au/
Dementia Australia https://www.dementia.org.au/
Younger Onset Dementia https://yod.dementia.org.au/
Health Direct https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dementia-overview