Category Archives: Younger Onset Dementia

#Hello, my name is Graeme Atkins

Image soure: Graeme Atkins

Hello, my name is Graeme Atkins. I was diagnosed with Younger Onset Dementia, and would like to tell you my dementia story. It’s actually our dementia story, as it is my partner Susan’s story as well. I will outline my background, the diagnosis itself, what it is like living with dementia and also how it affects our lives.

I’ll include why my partner Susan and I volunteer to advocate for people with dementia, and I will also explain the reason I joined the supportive Dementia Alliance International group.

Recently, I read DAI’s excellent interview with Theresa Montgomery entitled “Hello, My name Is Terry”. I was fascinated by some similarities between our stories and was thus inspired to tell mine. I have thus decided to interview myself and tell our story.

To this end I give thanks to Susan, my back-up-brain, for her fact-checking and editing. There will also be some internet addresses at the conclusion of this interview for you to click on if you wish. These will take you to various stories, music, and film of our volunteer work in advocating for better understanding and education of dementia.

This is how my interview with myself unfolded.

Graeme, tell us a few things about your background

I was born in Sydney Australia and was lucky to have survived as a baby. After being born with facial tumours I underwent many major operations and radiation treatment when I was only six months old in the 1950’s.

However, I did manage to overcome my childhood medical problems. I eventually became a teacher and taught for 32 years, working as a primary school teacher and also as a high school Mathematics teacher.

For fifty years now I have been enjoying playing the guitar and composing my own songs, which were advantageous in teaching children to read. For example, putting children’s names and spelling words into simple songs made a lesson more enjoyable and retained their interest longer.

I met my partner Susan, who is also a teacher, 36 years ago. We currently live on the North Coast of New South Wales, Australia, having moved here because of proximity to a range of excellent hospitals and medical specialists. Along with Susan, they work very hard to keep me alive and interested in life.

Would you care to describe your main medical problems?

It took some time to overcome my childhood illnesses as my facial tumours and tongue continued to grow. I had numerous operations and radiation treatment as a baby. As time went on, I also required speech therapy and corrective dental work.

Later, I underwent a further operation, which reconstructed my bottom jaw with bone grafted from my hip. The radiation treatment to my head as an infant had stunted the bone growth in my jaw.

In 2009 I was diagnosed with Younger Onset Dementia and had to stop working and driving. More details about that later. I am also on medication for Parkinsonism, as I have some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

Then in 2013, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had surgery to remove half of my right kidney. Luckily, the doctors were aware of the effects of anaesthetic on my brain in relation to my dementia diagnosis and so an epidural was administered.

In early 2019, I had a major heart attack and my life was saved by ambulance paramedics and hospital Emergency Department staff. I was very surprised to find out that I had eight heart blockages. It was too dangerous to undergo open-heart surgery. Heart surgery and dementia are not good friends, and that’s without even mentioning anaesthetic. Our Cardiology team suggested to just stent two arteries and to leave the other six risky ones alone.

After the heart attack I then experienced a small TIA and numerous seizures. More trips to hospital ensued, which resulted in us getting to know the local ambulance officers, doctors and nurses quite well.

In late 2019, after I become unwell again, I was diagnosed with complete heart block. I was flown to a hospital in Sydney, with a cardiac nurse accompanying me, where a heart pacemaker was implanted. Although 2019 was not a good year medically, I am feeling much better and am greatly indebted to our superb Australian health care system.

Naturally, I have even composed a tongue-in-cheek song about my major illnesses, called My Name Is CHAD. It’s an acronym, which stands for Cancer, Heart Attack, Dementia. I’m starting to think that cats are so inferior to me, as they only have nine lives.

Would you like to tell us more details about your dementia diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with Younger Onset Dementia in 2009 at the age of 54. To me, it doesn’t seem that long ago. This is possibly because I try not to dwell on it. Also, it helps that for much of the time I have probably forgotten about my diagnosis.

Leading up to my dementia diagnosis, my partner Susan had been suggesting that I visit my GP about my forgetfulness and confusion. Things like forgetting names, dates and appointments, using a wrong word in a sentence without realising, declining ability to multi-task, forgetting how to use appliances properly and losing possessions. These were all becoming more noticeable. Eventually I did go to the GP. However, upon returning home, Susan wanted to know what the GP had said. I had actually forgotten to discuss the intended issues.

Susan made another appointment for me and this time she attended it with me. Thus began the long haul for us, involving a timespan of three years, a total of seventy doctors’ appointments and nearly twelve thousand kilometres of travel. We heard many differing opinions, such as things like depression, stress, or even having a midlife crisis.

We had to keep pushing for further opinions, as I continued to decline. Eventually, there were rounds of cognitive testing, several MRI scans and a lumbar puncture. Each of these indicated a concern. I was finally diagnosed with Younger Onset Dementia. In a way, it was a relief. I was still able to do many things quite well, but other tasks were becoming difficult to do.

Life for me and my partner Susan changed forever from then on. We decided not to hide my diagnosis from friends, family and the general public, even though we already knew about the stigma and isolation that often accompany dementia. We have become quite used to being isolated over the years since my dementia diagnosis, as people’s contact seems to have dropped away. Dementia is not contagious. We are absolute experts at experiencing isolation. Under the current lockdown in relation to Corona Virus, we wonder how people would cope being isolated for years as is the case of people being diagnosed with dementia.

How has your diagnosis of dementia affected both of your lives?

It has life-changing effects. It affects work, driving, insurances, finances and daily living, to name just a few. I really miss teaching, especially the smiles on the children’s faces. I knew I could not afford for a child under my care to get hurt, if I forgot to give appropriate instructions or forgot to concentrate.

I also stopped driving. I definitely couldn’t afford an accident, let alone the awful guilt of possibly injuring or killing someone. It was probably a good thing that I was no longer driving, as this had featured prominently in our initial discussions about the need to see my GP. At one stage I had driven down a one-way street the wrong way and it was scary. So was the time when I drove onto the footpath and almost hit a boy who was riding his bike on the footpath.

My partner Susan needed to become my fulltime carer, and so was not able to work anymore as well. Our combined income and future potential finances were impacted enormously. We calculated that had we both been able to work until our retirement age, that my dementia diagnosis had conservatively cost us two million dollars in lost income and superannuation benefits.

Aged in my mid-fifties, I fell between the cracks. It was a year-long battle to get some sort of income. I had little choice but to take out my superannuation early, but even this was like wringing blood out of a stone. I never did get all of my entitlements!

After Susan wrote many letters to government departments, we found ourselves on a wild goose chase. In my application to the Australian Government’s social security department, called Centrelink, we discovered that they did not even have a box to tick on the form for Younger Onset Dementia. Hopefully this has changed. Trying to get a Disability Support Pension seemed to be too difficult. You can’t have dementia – you’re too young! We had of course included reports from medical specialists confirming my diagnosis.

Finally, I was put onto Unemployment Benefits, but of course I had to follow the required rules of turning up to a Job Network in order to be retrained and apply for jobs. I thought, this is going to be interesting. At one stage, in sheer frustration, I asked if I could be retrained as an air-traffic controller – but please, only send one plane at a time. Eventually, my situation was understood, and the appropriate things were put into place to assist us. This is one of the reasons that we advocate for changes, so that people understand younger people get dementia. It is not just an old person’s disease.

Due to your dementia diagnosis, what challenges do you face on a daily basis?

I am unsafe at home alone, after several worrying incidents involving falls, fire, and electricity. Susan has to be with me at all times in case further accidents occur. In the kitchen I have caused three microwave oven fires and we were just lucky they were noticed before they spread further. I have stumbles and falls throughout the house, sometimes requiring GP visits and physiotherapy. These are due to my visuo-spatial issues which are caused by my dementia.

I interchange things that are similar in some ways, yet clearly different. One day I tried to multi-task and feed the cat while also making Susan a cup of coffee. When I took Susan’s coffee into the loungeroom she looked in the cup and told me she couldn’t drink it.  When I asked, Why not? she told me that it had the cat’s meal in it. We both paused and rushed to the kitchen to see whether Magic the cat was enjoying his bowl of instant coffee. He definitely wasn’t.

In the bathroom I invented a new danger. This also involved interchanging things but this time it hurt. While cleaning my teeth I had managed to put the toothpaste onto my razor blade, instead of my toothbrush. I was very lucky to have inflicted only minimal damage to myself. After that, Susan sensibly located the shaving gear in the laundry and left the teeth cleaning gear in the bathroom. Brushing your teeth with a razor is not a good idea.

On another occasion, after buying a new wallet in K-Mart, I sat outside the shop and transferred everything from the old wallet into the new one while Susan continued to shop. After she had driven us home, I proudly pulled out my new wallet. I was horrified. In my hand was the old one, which I thought I had thrown into the rubbish bin outside K-Mart. Back we drove and anxiously searched through that bin while the K-Mart security officer eyed us suspiciously. Luckily for me the bin hadn’t been emptied yet, so I happily retrieved my new wallet containing all my cards and cash.

Webster Packs are generally of great assistance when taking tablets, although I have already made at least four different types of errors. You can take the evening pills in the morning or perhaps take tomorrow morning’s today. Also, you can do a double-up by taking, say, Monday morning’s and then, ten minutes later, take Tuesday morning’s as well. Or, finally, why not just forget to take the tablets altogether?

Many of my daily challenges are referred to in the lyrics of my songs. For example, the difficulties of keeping up-to-speed while watching a television show are mentioned in my song entitled ‘But It’s Happening Now’. The lyrics refer to “In Midsomer Murders I’m always two bodies behind”. This is in keeping with my desire to try not to lose my sense of humour. I am happy for people to laugh at the lyrics of my songs as I know they are not laughing at me.

How do you feel you are perceived by other people?

The situations revealed in the previous section are the type of things that happen to me that people don’t know about. They can see me out and about in public, have a ‘normal’ conversation with me, then wander away and say to someone else “I can’t really see a problem with Graeme,” or that one people diagnosed with dementia especially hate, “They don’t look like they have dementia.”

But people can’t see inside my head, so they can’t see reduced blood flow, a glitch in the hippocampus, high protein levels in cerebrospinal fluid or the results of official cognitive testing. For protection against any diagnosis-doubters, Susan always carries copies of my diagnosis and also my pharmacy medication list, which includes Aricept, in her handbag.

People have no idea that the reason I may have seemed normal to them at that time is because I would have had a nap at home before going out so that I am refreshed. They don’t know that Susan, as my carer, reminds me to have a sleep before we leave home for an outing. She also makes sure our calendar does not have commitments on consecutive days.

One of the things I do find difficult is when people jump in too quickly to try to help me finish my sentence when I have hesitated. They genuinely think they are helping but I would prefer them to wait because their suggested answer can put me off. For example, if I said, ‘During our holidays I went … (pause), and then a kind soul added “to the beach?”  this would then put me off any chance of recalling what I was actually going to say.. “on a helicopter ride.” I am thus visualising sand and surf thoughts, and, for me, these have actually replaced my initial thoughts about flying, rotors and a helicopter.

Tell us about your partner Susan’s role as a Care partner.

Image soure: Graeme Atkins

As a full-time care partner Susan, just like so many other carers, has made many sacrifices, having lost her career, work colleagues, future teaching income and associated superannuation. Most people would not know the extra tasks that fall to a full-time care partner who is looking after someone who has dementia. She is my partner, carer, nurse, secretary, manager, personal assistant, chef, chauffeur and extra memory bank, to name just a few.

I feel such a burden because she has few social contacts and, as I stated earlier, many friends and family seem to go missing when dementia is mentioned.

Susan continues to run the household and drive me everywhere I would like to go, always with a smile on her face. Her only time to herself is when my respite worker arrives. Dementia is hard. She has had to get rid of all the coffee tables and furniture items that have a sharp corner – at times it’s like having a two-year-old in the house. I don’t know how she does it. She takes into account my other shortcomings, like declining short-term memory and difficulties with background noises, multiple conversations or rapidly changing television images. To me, as my care partner, she is like Wonder Woman.

At local meetings and also forums further afield, she has been advocating for carers in general for many years now. This can be any carer looking after someone who has any issue at all. Susan highlights the very important role of carers who are often undervalued in our communities.

In 2011 Susan was named New South Wales Caring Partner of the Year. She was also made an Ambassador to advocate for carers. We were both thrilled to be invited to Sydney as guests of the NSW Government for a lovely Presentation Day awards ceremony at Parliament House. I am aware there are thousands of carers out there in Australia but, even so, from my biased point of view, it was a just reward. I am very lucky to have Susan.

Tell us about the dementia advocacy work that you have both done

In being up-front about my diagnosis we decided to become advocates to improve the general public’s knowledge and understanding of dementia. Susan is a great public speaker, with a wealth of knowledge about dementia. Her mother had been diagnosed with dementia a few years before me, so Susan had the personal experience as well as a lot of imparted medical information. She had two people in her life to assist. Susan quickly learnt that there is some theoretical advice that does not always work in practice, and that every individual is different. Susan’s mother was only 67 years of age when she was diagnosed.

We started doing presentations to try to reduce the stigma and misunderstandings that exist. We have attempted to debunk the myths around dementia, having been invited numerous times by various organisations to explain dementia from our personal experience. In telling our story at forums and conferences, and participating in interviews for radio, newspaper, telephone and television, we have hoped that people have gained a better understanding of dementia.

Sometimes we feel it is very hard to change some people’s long-held incorrect view of some aspects of dementia. Then there are times when we feel we have actually made a difference and helped to affect changes. It seems that the best chance of achieving important changes to local, state or national government policies is when an important person in office has actually had someone in their own family diagnosed with dementia. Or perhaps they have previously worked in the health industry. Either way, they then know from personal experience the complex and long-lasting effects of the disease.

Image soure: Graeme Atkins

Our tag-team method seems to be popular. Susan speaks for several minutes on an aspect of dementia, then I follow her to sing a song that I have written about that topic. We have presented from just ten minutes up to ninety minutes. This method gives me a break between songs, which is necessary.

At one presentation, when we were on for three different times throughout the day, the Aged Care Facility hosting the conference had arranged a bed for me for some naps. Now that shows a real understanding of dementia.

We try hard to explain that younger people get dementia. We also try to make it clear that Younger Onset Dementia is when you are diagnosed under the age of 65. YOD is a key part of our story, because that is the age at which people are likely to be working, have mortgages, or are supporting children, parents or both.

Stigma and isolation, which are often experienced after a diagnosis, also feature prominently in our talks. Another important point we make is that a dementia diagnosis does not mean that a person is instantly incapable of doing things or unable to contribute to society. One time I was asked “When will you go mad?” while on other occasions people are quite surprised when I am still able to do some things well.

We also advocate for improvements to community facilities to make life a little easier for people living with dementia. We were also happy to participate in the YouTube educational movie ‘The Unspoken Impact of Dementia’. (Please refer to Internet addresses that follow this interview)

On the local front, I have been attending the local ‘Timeslips’ program, which is a creative storytelling technique which uses photographs to assist people with dementia to think, reason and speak.

As the other half of our dual dementia presentation, I enjoy having a special purpose for my song writing and singing. I have written many songs about aspects of dementia. It has been proven that music is especially effective in activating multiple brain parts simultaneously. The lyrics to my song “Spreading the Word” try to sum up the type of presentation that we do:

We travel and present so you’re aware,
Here’s our dementia story that we share,
She pleads and speaks it from the heart,
I sing and strum to play my part –
We won’t stop ’til people listen and are fair.

How do you try to keep your brain active?

These days I am still interested in life and still enjoy doing things, but I have had to slow down, learn to pace myself and rest, especially my brain. At home, I like word puzzles, watching soccer, reading books and computing. I especially love to play my guitars, banjos, keyboard and ukulele. As long as Susan can hear some sort of noise emanating from our garage/music room, even it is snoring, then she knows I’m still okay.

Image soure: Graeme Atkins

I still like to play lawn bowls with my supportive and understanding friends at my local bowling club. Recently I purchased a mechanical bowling arm to assist me, which has allowed me to continue playing.

This same enjoyment exists when we are with local ukulele group friends, or at the cinemas, local library or zoo. Socialisation is especially important after a diagnosis of dementia.

But it is important not to just do the same type of things repeatedly. Trying to learn new things, making new brain connections, is especially good for the brain. For example, on the advice of one of my Specialists, I have been learning to play the keyboard. As this instrument is played with my hands down at chair level, I am less affected by my tremors than when I play my stringed instruments.

How did you find out about Dementia Alliance International?

I first met Kate Swaffer at a respite forum in Sydney, about four years ago. I had heard that she is also a staunch advocate, so I started researching the dementia things she was associated with. When I read about Kate’s co-founding of DAI, I googled it and became quite interested in what it did.

The realisation that DAI offered a fun and friendly network of like-minded souls, just like me, was a great surprise.

My respite worker helped me find out what Zoom was and assisted me to buy a webcam for my computer. Not long afterwards, I had registered for DAI and was soon zooming all over Australia, and then the world.

Meeting up with understanding friends without even leaving the house – now that seemed a good idea!

Gone were the usual costs for transport, food and drink. The bonus was there was no need for Susan to stop what she was doing. Being at home, if I get tired, I just say ‘Well, I’m off for a nap. See you all later.’

My DAI Zoom buddies have taught me some new skills, so now I can even do chat and screen share. My weekly support meetings, involving the Australia/New Zealand/Singapore regions, are most enjoyable to attend. So are the monthly international meetings and the educational Webinars. It is interesting to be able to speak to and hear from people from all over the world who also have dementia, just like me.

I get to chat and have fun with my internet support network in a friendly atmosphere. Nobody minds if someone loses track of what they were trying to say, as we are all in the same boat. Nobody rings a conference bell and says that your time is up. At Dementia Alliance International I am accepted by the members, being among friends who show patience and compassion because they can relate to my situation.

DAI’s hosts and members treat each other with respect, equality and without discrimination or stigma. When I see all of our little heads, appearing in an array on the laptop screen, I think it makes us look and feel like a happy little family. Perhaps we look just like the start of the TV show The Brady Bunch, even though we are all in distant locations.

In my opinion, DAI have been trend-setters for a number of years now by supporting people online and by helping them to connect.

People with dementia, who have often been isolated, are still zooming in to their friends. This helps you to feel good. Under the current Coronavirus isolation rules, many people without dementia are not coping with isolation.

However, for many of us with dementia, we have been living in isolation for many years due to the fact that family and friends have often turned their backs on us. (Refer to my ‘Isolation’ song reference at the end, which was written a number of years ago.)

I think that one of the best things about Dementia Alliance International is that it is free to attend. Sure, you need to have a laptop or phone and also to pay for your own data, but’s fair enough. Most other organisations seem to charge you in some way to help you.

It would great if DAI could receive some extra financial assistance to pay for their zoom fees and other set expenses, as they exist on half a shoestring budget and are run only by volunteers.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to give something back to DAI in the form of music. Sometimes at a meeting I am able to sing a song, for some extra enjoyment. Even my brain synapses must enjoy the extra connections. It has been especially pleasing to be able to contribute some live songs to the last few years of DAI’s annual WRAD – World Rocks Against Dementia – fundraiser meetings. My theme song for DAI describes the alliance as follows:

“We are Dementia Alliance International,
Just for people with dementia, we run our own venture,
We are birds of a feather, who have banded together,
I implore you, to make sure you, do not doubt us,
Nothing about us without us.”

Thank you Dementia Alliance International. It is great to belong to an organisation whose founders and volunteers know how to connect with and support people living with dementia.

For anyone interested, the internet references below will show you various stories, music or film of some of Susan’s and my advocacy work. We do not charge or get paid to present and we give out copies of my CDs and DVDs for free, just in the hope that people will gain a greater understanding of dementia.

DAI thanks Graeme Atkins, and his wife Susan for their story, and especially for their passion to make the world a better place for all people with dementia and our families. We love that he is our self proclaimed ‘Wreck’ officer (Recreational Officer!!!)

The following links from Graeme may be of interest:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z15-0xZTng4 (‘The Unspoken Impact of Dementia”, 4 mins, made by Alucindor Productions)

https://www.dementia.org.au/sites/default/files/DementiaFriendlyGuide_Sept14.pdf  (page 7, foreword, of “A Guide To Becoming A Dementia Friendly Community)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCOw3hJS_Nw (Song, ‘Happy 5th Birthday Dementia Alliance International, Video)

https://baptistcare.org.au/about-baptistcare/news/an-inspiring-2015-dementia-forum/ (Article on our dementia presentation, written by Michelle Van Doninck, Baptist Care)

https://www.portnews.com.au/story/5495839/stories-take-shape-in-creative-and-relaxed-environment/(Newspaper article, by Lisa Tisdell, Port News, about Timeslips Program with Lisa Hort)

 

#Hello from one young carer

On Day 16 of World Alzheimer’s Day #WAM2019 we highlight the story of one young care partner whose mother had young onset dementia.

It is important we are remember that children of a parent living with younger onset dementia are too often the invisible care partners and are not adequately recognised by health care providers, if at all.

An Australian researcher, Karen Hutchinson was researching the impact of dementia on young adults and children. Her work identified four common experiences of young people living with a parent with younger onset dementia, which included the emotional toll of caring, keeping the family together, grief and loss and psychological distress.

This is one young care partners story, first published in Karen’s research, then republished with permission in Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia: A practical guide to what’s next for people living with dementia, their families and care partners [1]

As an only child of a single parent X recalls seeing changes in his mum from about 8 years old. He lived in a small community where someone labeled his mum, at 42 years old, as a drug addict when they noticed some changes in her. Subsequently X was no longer able to have friends over to his house. He did not know what was happening to his mum, which he found hard as he could not explain to others what it was.

He was very protective of his mum and recalls how his friend pointed out to him when he was 11 that he was doing things that a parent normally did. Unknown to him he had started gradually to do things that his mum used to do. It was many years later before he knew her diagnosis of dementia.

When X was about 13 he hung with the ‘wrong crowd’ and did not attend school regularly. He was sleeping rough at nights to get away from home and drinking alcohol. He knew this was wrong but he needed to escape from his unpredictable home life. There were no boundaries placed on him so he was free to do whatever he wanted. His family and mum’s friends no longer visited so basically they were left alone.

They moved to a different area where X was soon labeled a ‘trouble-maker’ by the first school he attended. He then transferred to another school and it was there that finally a teacher took an interest in him but the fear of being separated from his mum made him stop disclosing what was happening at home. He recalls having some challenging times at school and felt he did not have much in common with his peers.

Thanks to a supportive teacher he remained at school until year 12 and this provided him with some ‘stability’ in his life. He did want to go to university but knew this was not going to happen and felt a real sadness about this. A supportive teacher helped him through this time and gave him hope for the future.

They faced financial hardship as there was no money for food and bills so he had to juggle school, paid work and caring for his mother. This eventually took its toll after leaving school where he ‘reached a crisis point’, he needed to escape and be like his friends free to leave home.

On reflection he felt he may have been depressed but his focus was on looking after his mum and felt there was no help for him except escape to the pub more frequently. He recalls the time when he finally asked for some help, a family member told him that it costs money and he wouldn’t be able to afford it, so he did not look into it further at this time.

His crisis worsened and he moved interstate as he wasn¹t coping but he organised his extended family to look after his mum before he left. He noted that very soon after his leaving community services were organised to support his mum. He felt lots of guilt but contacted and visited his mother frequently until he eventually returned home feeling stronger in himself to take over her care again. He felt no one could care for his mum as well as him because he loved her.

This complex and challenging situation continued whilst juggling paid work and his demanding caring role. Finally with the added benefit of maturity he realised that services and care for his mum was something they were entitled to and not just someone doing them a favour. With this new insight he felt more confident and empowered to get the help they needed. He now recognised himself as a carer and obtained financial support and gained legal advice with regards to managing his mum’s financial affairs. He recognised too that he needed a plan for the future. After many frustrating months navigating the complex process of arranging a suitable nursing home placement for his mother, he was successful. He reflected that ‘you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get it (services and residential care).

When his mum finally was accepted into a nursing home he remembers this time as a particularly emotional and difficult period where he felt he had failed her. He thought his life was spinning out of control but he knew it was time to be her son again. He was able to spend quality time with his mum without all the responsibilities and also finally start to sort out his own life.

‘I think having someone to talk to who knew about what was going on, would have made things better for me too. Because I just felt really alone. ‘Didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about that stuff’ he reflected.

Stories in Karen’s research, and from DAI members reflect this is experienced by many young people in a similar situation to this young man.

You can also read the article by Karen Hutchinson, Chris Roberts and Susan Kurrle in the Australian Journal of Dementia Care, Invisible carers: Young People Caring for People With Dementia.

Please help us support more people with dementia to share their stories and live more positively by donating or partnering with Dementia Alliance International.

 

[1] Swaffer, K & Low, LF. (2016). “Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia: A practical guide for what’s next for people with dementia, their families and care partners”, New Holland Publishers: Sydney, pp 253-254.

 

 

#Hello, my name is Kate

Another #DAI #Hello story, this time from DAI co founder, Kate Swaffer.

Hello, my name is Kate Swaffer. I am the current Chair and one of eight co founders of Dementia Alliance International (DAI). I received a diagnosis of the semantic variant of Primary Progressive Aphasia just over 11 years ago at the age  of 49, although at the time I was told it was Sementia Dementia when first diagnosed.

The first 12-18 months were spent in fear and even thoughts of suicide. I cried for weeks, expecting the worst. My whole family loss hope for our future together.

Why? Well, not one person, including health care professionals told us there was still a good life to live, even with dementia.

Then through Dr Google, I met the late Dr Richard Taylor online, and first through his writings and then chatting via email and google hangouts,  I then started to realised my life could go on. I used to tell him often, he saved my life!

The other life saving thing that happened, was being at university as they simply saw me as a person with acquired disabilities, and supportd be via their Disability Services to continue to live my life!  This link takes you to an article I wrote about dementia, rights and disability.

Studying for me was a hobby, so it was meaningful, and fun. It also has the benefits of neuroplasticity, for which there is growing evidence for its value in terms of rewiring our brains.

Then, and now, most people have the very wrong misperception that a person diagnosed with dementia goes from diagnosis, almost immediately to end stage, almost overnight, even many of the health care professionals.

It may be at an unconscious level, but most people who are newly diagnosed are still being Prescribed Disengagement®, also a reason that keeps me motivated to contiue to be an activist for changing what happenes at the time of diagnosis, and campaigning for rehabilitation and other disability support for us all.

At best, we are told to get acquainted with community or aged care services, and to get our end of life affaris in order. We  rarely receive referrals to disability services, or other allied health professionals such as speech pathologists to suppot language and communication disabilities.

This lack of post diagnostic support is a major breach of o ur most basic human rights.

I’ve written books and many articles since being diagnosed with dementia over the years, and continue to do so, as well as being very involved in research about improving the experience of diagnosis and quality of life for all people with dementia.  I’m deeply grateful that Richard Taylor wrote and recorded a beautiful review of my first book, What the hell happened to my Brain: Livng beyond dementia.

My passion and goal is to empower people with dementia to live more positively and more independently with dementia, for as long as possible, rather than  to only go home and prepare to die via aged care. The other is to find a way for us all to work together globally, to advocate for global change.

Kate Swaffer © 2019

Note: Whilst many people know me, there are also many new DAI members who may not.  Hence, why I am saying #hello.

Please help us support more people with dementia to share their stories and live more positively by donating or partnering with Dementia Alliance International.

#Hello, my name is Juanita Hughes

On day 4 of World Alzheimer’s Month, #DAI member Juanita Hughes, from Brisbane says #Hello.

These stories highlight the many different experiences people have in terms of getting a  diagnosis, and how they choose to live with and respond to what is a very difficult diagnosis to be given.  Thank you Juanita for sharing your story.

I am 54 and I have young onset early stage behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD)

Image source: Juanita Hughes

I have a strong family history of what we now know is bvFTD. My grandfather was quite some time along the dementia track, and he was misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s, even though, in retrospect, he had shown classic symptoms of bvFTD.

An older brother also had the same condition and we believe their father also had dementia, and may be others in his heritage.

My father has lost his sister and two younger brothers, and has another younger brother undergoing testing for this condition. After dad’s younger brother died his daughter a nurse started serious research into the condition and discovered the research group Frontier, located then at the University of New South Wales research group – Neura, which specialised in frontotemporal dementia research.

They were keen to have my father joined them as a research participant in their main research project and threw them he was diagnosed as having bvFTD and the genetic mutation involved was discovered – C9orf72. My sister and I indicated that when they started research that was applicable to us we were willing to join.

I have a background in science research, so once this was discovered I read all the scientific literature that about this condition and this mutation that I could put my hands on. This included the current diagnostic criteria for bvFTD. As soon as possible I had myself tested for the mutation and received a positive result – I had the mutation too.

This had been two years since my dad’s initial diagnosis due to delays within the free State Government sponsored testing system. The genetic counsellor told me that she could not tell me much about my prognosis except that it was not case of if but when I would get the disease. This result didn’t actually surprise me as I was already aware of minor changes consistent with the diagnostic criteria.

Within a few months of my genetic result, I had convinced my GP to refer me to a neurologist for testing. My initial neurologist was convinced that I probably had dementia, but he specialised in movement disorders rather than dementia so he referred me onto his colleague who runs a clinic in atypical dementias.

So about seven months after the genetic diagnosis I received a diagnosis of dementia – definite bvFTD with the early signs and known genetic mutation leading to bvFTD. The neurologist told me that I was extremely early in the dementia journey, and that he had never diagnosed anybody this early. Then wanted to put me onto pharmaceutical interventions which I adamantly refused.

A few months before getting my genetic diagnosis, Frontier in was able to obtain funding to run a longitudinal study to endeavour to identify early changes in biomarkers/scan data for Dominantly Inherited Non-Alzheimer’s Dementias – DINAD. My sister and I and my cousin all became participants in this research. The genetic counsellor of this research was pleasantly surprised at my knowledge of the disease and suggested I become a genetic counsellor myself. So this year I have commenced studying Master of Diagnostic Genomics, with a plan to continue into a PhD program.

Once I had my diagnosis I was no longer eligible for the DINAD program, and volunteered to join the same research program that my father was in. I went into my first assessment with this program only to find that not only had they placed me in the research program I thought I was joining, but many other researchers wanted me to join their projects as well – so many that I lost count. Because I am so much earlier in my dementia journey than the standard research participant I can give a different perspective to the research so they are all keen to have me participate.

I would like to repeat here part of posts (edited) I put on the Facebook page – Living Healthy with Early Onset Dementia – on August 22nd.

Saying this may sound crazy, but I’m grateful for the genetic mutation underlying my dementia … I have heard too many stories of the difficulty people have in getting an accurate diagnosis or any diagnosis at all, and my heart goes out to you all.

I am glad that I have this diagnosis while I am still able to describe what it feels like to be on this side of dementia as researchers characteristically state that people with bvFTD lose the capacity to assess their own changes early in the disease process. I can see this with my dad who is in late mid stages of the same disease. He variously denies any problems or says he’s getting better, whereas my mum and I can see his degeneration.

The downside of this is that researchers don’t bother to ask people with a lived experience and just rely on carers and clinicians observations to describe the characteristic diagnostic conditions. I am in the unique position to describe this lived experience, as most people with this dementia are diagnosed too late, or haven’t read the scientific literature to know what erroneous conclusions to challenge.

…Within a few days of my diagnosis I had applied to join Dementia Alliance International and attended my first support meeting within two weeks of the diagnosis. I have now joined their action team. I have become an advocate with Dementia Australia and applied to join the Dementia Australia Advisory Committee.

When I joined as an advocate with Dementia Australia, I agreed to become part of a focus group. The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care asked Dementia Australia to assist with rewriting a Cognitive Impairment Fact Sheet to be used in healthcare settings. I volunteered to help in a focus group in my hometown but before that happened I had to come down to Sydney and was invited to join the Sydney group.

As a result of participating in this project I’ve been asked and agreed to three more. The next week I talked with a researcher from a group that has been commissioned to do research on behalf of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Late in August I agreed to be filmed as part of a video to be released Dementia Australia Action week.

In a few days’ time I will be involved as a panel member representing those with a lived experience of dementia in the Decoding Dementia Mentoring Workshop which is assessing new technological innovations to help people living with dementia. In October, I will be speaking publicly about dementia for the first time. Dementia Awareness and Advocacy Team is a group that I joined in my local city, and I am speaking at their annual one-day forum.

These posts well describe my feelings and emphasises my motto:

Dementia Is a Journey – Not a Destination.

Please help us support more people with dementia to share their stories and live more positively by donating or partnering with Dementia Alliance International.

The huge misunderstanding is that the person with dementia has no understanding, by Naomi Higuchi

The huge misunderstanding is that the person with dementia has no understanding.

By Naomi Higuchi

Discussion about the end of life medical approach and the care.

Theme: Who should make decisions at the final stage of life and how?

From the perspective of the person living with Lewy body dementia.”  yomi Dr. Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings, 15.12.2016. Available in Japanese here here.

DAI is delighted to share this article about dementia and end of life issues, from the perspectives of Naomi Higuchi, a person living with lewy body dementia in Japan.

“Who should make decisions about end-of-life care when we are diagnosed with dementia? My answer is clear that it is the person himself or herself. Then, when should it be done? Probably before the person loses the ability to do so.

It is the only way to relieve those around the person, including loved ones and healthcare professionals, from the emotional conflict that may last even after the person’s death.

It is difficult for anybody to contemplate the loss of their loved ones objectively or calmly. No matter what they have chosen, the feeling of doubt will remain whether one has made right decision. The more medicine develops, the more this feeling will increase.

The evaluation of the decision between too much and not enough can only be made by the person who lives the life.

In terms of the end of life care of people with dementia, there is a strong negative image that those people are “kept alive without any understanding of what is going on.” But is it really true?  It may be that people simply assume that persons with dementia do not understand anything, and therefore they do not even think of asking them what they want.

My grandmother taught me: It is natural that people get old and die

My grandmother had been bedridden at home for a long time. Even when we were told that “she cannot recognize her family anymore”, she still smiled at me and said, “Hi, Naomi…”.  

However, eventually such responses decreased, she lost words and facial expressions, becoming something like a stone. No one could tell whether she still had emotions or not. This situation made me feel something similar to grief at her death.

However, one day when my mother was with her, my grandmother suddenly opened her mouth and said to my mother, “I am sorry for being a burden to you. It wont last long, so please forgive me.” Her lack of responsiveness did not mean that she did not understand anything.

Every time when I visited my grandmother, I let my little children hold her hands and talk to her. Although we could not see her response anymore, I believed that she still felt something inside her with our visits.

She became a great teacher to my children by showing them how people as human beings age, suffer from illness and become increasingly vulnerable towards the end of life.

My grandmother passed away slowly and calmly, surrounded by her loved ones at home. It seemed that she finished her life with no pain, no worries and no fear. I felt that she returned to a vast place beyond time and space. 

I felt a strange sense of relief to think that all creatures including myself will eventually go back to that place. Death is a natural process. It is not a tragedy, defeat or devastation. The thought that death was a part of the fundamental workings of all creatures, nature and the universe, calmed and comforted me.

Being diagnosed with dementia does not mean that the person suddenly loses all cognitive functions.Illnesses give us the opportunity to think about our life more seriously.

After I was given the diagnosis of Lewy Body dementia, I deeply thought about what I can do, what I want to do, what I should do and what would give me satisfaction the rest of my life.Many small concerns and worries which do not relate to the core of my life disappeared when I thought I might not remain in my current condition next year.

I decided to spend the rest of my life time building social awareness of dementia. This challenge made my life fruitful, and it seems that an enriched life has promoted the well-being of my brain and all my body cells.

Meeting with people who practice the approach of “treating the person as she/he is, regardless of dementia”  

Through my advocacy activity, I came to meet with people who conduct ideal medical and care approaches. After my conversations with them, I can now declare with confidence that it is a complete misunderstanding that people no longer recognize anything when they have dementia. 

I heard directly from a family member whose father (82 years old) clearly said that he wanted to have gastrostomy if it was going to improve his condition. People around him including the family were really surprised as they had thought that he was no longer capable of making decisions regarding his own treatment, due to advanced dementia from Lewy body disease. 

A care method called “Humanitude” has been developed in France by Yves Gineste and Rosette Marescotti. The methodology applies a multimodal communication approach to convey respect for the dignity of the person.

Mr.Gineste, Director of Institutes Gineste-Marescotti and Visiting Professor at Kyoto University, told me face to face that his father, who had Parkinson’s disease, could walk until the day before he died, which means that with appropriate intervention, people can maintain their ability throughout their lives.  

With the use of adequate care techniques, people who may appear to be extremely aggressive become quite calm, elderly people who were bedridden can start walking with assistance, and their contracted joints can be stretched again.

 

 

 

 

Tadasuke Kato, Director of the multifunctional nursing facility Aoi Care in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan, was featured in a popular NHK TV documentary program. The facility admitted a woman who had been hospitalized due to Alzheimers disease and a gastrointestinal disease, and supported her to lead an independent life to the end. I heard that her last words were “(God,) please close my (life story) book.”

Picture: A lady who was cared for by the staff in Aoi Care until she passed away. She enjoyed the role of selling snacks in a community event.

Both Gineste and Kato say, “Even if people have dementia, it is possible to have affectionate communication with them until the end of their life.” I believe that this is not a miracle that could only be accomplished by people like Gineste and Kato, but it is possible for anybody only if they make up their mind to face each person with real respect and affection.

Picture: An example of gastrostomy

However, it is never too early to think about the end of one’s life and write down advance directives. This should be done with sound knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages that the choices such as gastrostomy would entail, not based on vague impressions.

I used to have a very negative image of gastrostomy because I have seen people with gastrostomy in a nursing facility during their meal time.  A nurse went into a room where 6 people were lying in bed in postures that looked uncomfortable and distressed.

The nurse connected a big bag, which looked like a medication bag for intravenous feeding, to each persons gastrostomy tube. She came in and left without saying a single word. I felt the way she treated the people was cold and cruel.

However, if I were to develop a Parkinsonism as a part of Lewy body dementia and have difficulty swallowing from the early stage, I would definitely choose gastrostomy to take in enough nutrition, water and medication, and continue to go out and participate in activities as I do now. (Some people in the early stage of the disease may have to use gastrostomy even when they can walk on their own.)  I could continue to eat my favorite food with my mouth even if the amount is less.

The meaning of gastrostomy can be very different depending on the users stage and condition. If we have this kind of knowledge and make decisions with the correct understanding, we will have less chance to regret.

Everybody should regularly take time to write down their own wishes for the end of life.

 

Picture: A staff member of Aoi Care and Kin who passed away just after realizing her dream of visiting her hometown in Akita, Japan

Everyone is at risk of having an accident or illness that could affect their speaking abilities, such as a car accident or stroke. I recommend everyone to write down their wishes for their end of life in advance, for example, when they renew their driving license, when they get their annual health checkup or when they see their primary care physician.

If it becomes a routine for everyone, we can avoid the situation in which the family must suffer from the burden of making medical decisions when the person is unable to communicate. 

Some local governments in Japan encourage their residents to write down their medical information and keep it in the refrigerator at home so that emergency staff can find it easily. I think this is also a good place to keep the advance directives.

Thinking about our own death should enrich the rest of our life and make it more meaningful. 

Now I am about to embark on a new enterprise of walking on the downward path of life, which would entail learning how to live with the assistance of others.  It would be nice if I can, at the end of my life, choose to open the door and step into the next unknown world by saying “please close my book.”

Biography: Higuchi was born in 1962. She was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia at the age of 50. Until then, she was misdiagnosed with depression and suffered from the side effects of inappropriate medications for 6 years. In 2015, she published a book called “What happened in my brain” (Bookmansha). For this book, she won the 2015 award of the Medical Journalist Institution of Japan. The book is based on her diary over a 2-year period before and after the diagnosis.  It was all written by herself without the help of a professional writer or an editor. 

Higuchi is invited to give lectures in universities and academic conferences, such as the Japan Society of Dementia Research.  She also continues to write short articles for a column in the medical website of a major newspaper company.   As of October 2016, she maintains her capacity for logical thinking, even though she may occasionally suffer from various brain dysfunctions, such as space cognitive impairment, hallucinations and autonomic neuropathy.

Naomi Higuchi Copyright 2019 

 

The Joy of DAI and Dementia, by Tamara Claunch

The first month of January is almost at an end! Wow, where did it go?! This month has definitely passed quickly, and for DAI, it has included a lot of celebrations for our 5th birthday.

We even have one more DAI event in January to attend, which you still have time to register for!

But, back to our birthday!

Who would have thought someone would be jealous of having dementia?

Our 5th birthday party was held in lieu of our regular Cafe Le Brain and members meeting, with a high attendance. It was an open session, with everyone being welcome, and access details made publicly available.  Most of our events last for up to 90 minutes; this one went for 2.5 hours, and only ended as those of us who were there the whole time we exhausted! People dropped in and out as they were able to, and everyone had a lot of fun.

Today, we are delighted to share a guest blog, written by one of our newest friends and supporters Tamara Claunch, who attended the celebration, and who has also agreed to volunteer for DAI. We will be sharing some exciting news about that in another blog very soon!

The Joy of DAI and dementia

By Tamara Claunch, written on Janauary 17, 2019

Yesterday I experienced being jealous of having dementia for the first time. If I had dementia, I would be allowed in the club. Yes, the club is that good.

Dementia Alliance International celebrated their fifth birthday recently.

I, along with other professionals, friends and family was invited to join the online, global celebration. It lasted longer than expected and was very well attended. Over 80 people called in on video from all over the world and the facilitators did a fantastic job of recognizing all attendees and making sure all had a chance to introduce themselves and say a little about DAI.

As I listened to the attendees speak, what struck me was how each member of DAI evidenced a lightness of the spirit, an openness that comes with wisdom and gratitude. Wisdom because they’ve experienced intense trauma and loss.

Gratitude because they’re together.

At least this is my interpretation of the energy in that communal space; I would not presume to know how it feels to be them.

At first, I was reminded of Alcoholics Anonymous: the old timer success stories inspire the freshly baptized-with-fire newcomers. They befriend and teach and support one another. As the group gets bigger, it adjusts – more local support groups, more online support groups, more specific support and study groups.

Absolute inclusion. Like AA, there’s only one criterion for joining: you must have the same “condition” as everyone else in the group.

How must it feel to being newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, frontal lobe or Lewy body dementia and given less than five or ten years to live? To believe the majority of those years will be spent dependent upon others?

Imagine then how it might feel to meet dozens of people all over the world who are living beyond dementia. People who are fighting their illness and defying expectations. People who are still independent, social and active a decade or more after diagnosis.

At the birthday party, I saw new DAI members experiencing hope for the future, perhaps for the first time since their diagnosis. As one member put it, “I can fight this and make it [the time] count”.

I saw “old” DAI members reconnecting and seeing each other for the first time in a while.

People laughed and joked, empathized and encouraged. They held a moment of silence for members who are no longer around.  All appeared to have a sense of purpose and community and to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

While the members of DAI were uniquely individual, as were their stories, I perceived some common threads running through the tapestry of lively conversation and heartfelt congratulations:

  • They are all immensely grateful for DAI and the impact that it has had on their lives.
  • It’s okay to make fun of dementia, only if you have it.
  • Every journey has a purpose.

For a brief time, I was able to experience the humor and humanity and open lightness that exists within these people and between them.

Contrary to how the media, some caregivers and the medical establishment portray dementia, these people are not dumb. They are not dull. They are not incapacitated. They are funny and bright and witty and inclusive.

They are, simply, humans being human. As one member said, “Individually, we have deficits but as a whole we are magnificent.”

As an Integrative Wellness & Life Coach, speaker and writer, I specialize in working with people who have dementia. I am an advocate, a partner and a champion of persons with dementia. But all my passion and all my expertise did not prepare me for what I experienced during DAI’s 5th birthday party.

It ended up being one of the most present, precious experiences of my life.

If only the world could see these people and hear their stories then maybe, just maybe, the world would start to treat them as human beings deserving of dignity, respect, and inclusion.

So while I may not long for a diagnosis of dementia, I would love to belong to an organization like Dementia Alliance International. They have a lot of fun and they do a lot of good for others. They make a real difference in the lives of people all over the world and I am grateful to be a supporter and friend of the group and its members.

Copyright: Tamara Claunch 2019

About Tamara: Tamara Claunch, MEd, is an Integrative Wellness & Life Coach and the Founder of VitaV Wellness in Aging. She has worked extensively in partnership with the Center for Applied Research in Dementia. Her main areas of expertise are dementia risk-reduction and alternative, nonpharmacological interventions for those living with symptoms of dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). She has extensive experience working with individuals, families and the broader medical community to enable independence, dignity and equality in the lives of people living with dementia. Her passion in life is helping others find purpose in their journey, wherever it may take them and whatever it looks like.

Thank you Tamara for this beautful reflection, and thank you Fei Sun for the image below of some of the people who joined us. 

Image source: Fei Sun

International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2018

The World Health Organisation states Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide” ( 2018).

It also now defines dementia is a condition causing acquired cognitive disabilities.

It is therefore important as an organisation, DAI acknowledges and celebrates this day, as our members, when first diagnosed (even if not visible in the earlier stages of dementia) are living with acquired cognitive disabilities.  However, as dementia progresses, our disabilities are likely to become more obvious, athough this seems to be the lens through which dementia is still only being viewed by health care professionals (in spite of initiatives to diagnose earlier) and many in the community (i.e. late stage).

Seeing dementia through the lens of disability helps us to claim our rights, under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

If you go to the United Nations website, you can read more about the theme of their activiteis today.  What is very relevant to people with dementia is they are focusing in the morning on Sustainable Development Goals, and in the afternoon on Accessible Cities for All: Smart and Inclusive Urban Planning.

This is relevant, in light of the global campaigns to make our communities ‘dementia friendly’, as what we want has little to do with being friendly, and everything to do with inclusion, and therefore access, including access to adequate health care, and disability support including rehabilitation (cognitive and physical).

On the second half of the page about today on the UN, it says:

“In the morning, the commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities will feature the launch of the first UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development on the “Realization of the Sustainable Development Goals by, for and with persons with disabilities”The publication will be launched by Mr. Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General, for Economic Development and Chief Economist (UN DESA).

The opening ceremony will review the progress achieved, explore ways to further empower persons with disabilities and provide an overview of the international framework of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for SDGs, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The event will gather Member States, UN entities, civil society organizations, academic institutes and persons with disabilities.

In the afternoon, the commemoration will focus on “Accessible Cities for All: Smart and Inclusive Urban Planning” as key elements to reduce inequalities and empower people to live in accessible, usable and friendly healthy environments. The event will explore SDG11 of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development by providing space for Mayors, City Leaders to exchange innovative solutions on how to implement the SDGs and to exchange good practices about inclusive urban planning to promote the participation and well-being of their citizens of all ages and abilities.

Afterwards, the event will discuss smart inclusive environment and how to apply information and communication technologies to provide better infrastructure, quality services in a safe accessible environment.”

People with dementia have definitely become empowered, and are working together locally, nationally and globally to ensure dementia is ot only listed on websites as a condition casuing disabikites, it si a condition where we wil, at the time of diagnosis, be provided with adequate disability assessment and support to maintain independence for as long as possible, not just assessment of our Actvities of Daily Living (ADL’s), and which will also include rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation and dementia: evidence & opportunities

Our November “A Meeting Of The Minds” Webinar is by Associate Professor LeeFay Low fom Sydney University. The topic, Rehabilitation and dementia: evidence & opportunities, will be of great interest to members and professionals, and we hope you will join us.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Webinar:  The World Health Organisation has defined rehabilitation as “a set of measures that assist individuals, who experience or are likely to experience disability, to achieve and maintain optimum functioning in interaction with their environments”. Research and practice relating to dementia is predominantly focused on prevention, disease-modifying treatment, and care. This presentation will review the current evidence for rehabilitation strategies (e.g. exercise, cognitive training, occupational therapy) in dementia, and outline several ongoing studies. Barriers to rehabilitation for dementia will also be presented.

Register here…

About A/Professor Low: Lee-Fay Low (BSc Psych (Hons), PhD) is Associate Professor in Ageing and Health, NHMRC Boosting Dementia Research Leadership Development Fellow, and Head of Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney. She is a registered psychologist with a PhD in psychiatric epidemiology.

A/Prof Low conducts research that she hopes will make a difference in the world.

Her main areas of expertise are in home and residential care for older people, wellbeing in people with dementia, dementia risk factors for dementia, dementia literacy, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She is particularly interested in developing and evaluating interventions to improve the quality of life of older people. She has methodological skills in population studies, systematic reviews, clustered randomised trials, instrument development and evaluation, and translation of research into practice.

She has authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles, as well as two books on dementia. She is an active advocate in improving how older people are treated and cared for. Lee-Fay thinks that research is great fun, and even admits to liking statistics.

Register here…

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 – times (USA/UK/EU/CA):

10:00 am  Honolulu
12:00 pm  Oregon Portland/San Francisco USA
12:00 pm  Vancouver CA
2:00 pm    Des Moines/Chicago USA
3:00 pm    New York USA
3:00 pm    Toronto CA
8:00 pm    London/Glasgow UK
9:00 pm    Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, EU

Thursday, November 29, 2018 – times (AU/NZ/JP/IND/TWN):

6:00 am    Adelaide AU
6:30 am    Brisbane AU
7:00 am    Sydney/Melbourne/Canberra/Tasmania AU
4:00 am    Perth AU/Taipei TWN
5:00 am    Tokyo, JP
9:00 am    Auckland, NZ

The webinar runs for 1 hour. 

Check your time if not listed above by using clicking this link… 

Register here…

 

COST TO ATTEND:

  • FREE for DAI members and their care partner (if you have dementia, please join here: www.joindai.org
  • $40 USD for all others
  • $20:00 USD Students (FT, unemployed)
  • DONATION (this is not in lieu of a paid ticket unless it is higher than the fee, if you do not fit into the FREE ticket category)

THE SMALL FEE PAID FOR SOME ATTENDEES OF THIS EVENT IS GREATLY APPRECIATED.

WEBINAR FEES AND DONATIONS ARE OUR ONLY SOURCE OF REGULAR REVENUE. WITHOUT THEM, DAI COULD NOT PROVIDE THE SERVICES WE PROVIDE CURRENTLY FOR MEMBERS, THEIR FAMILIES & THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY.

  • $US 5.00 covers the average cost of one of our monthly bank fees
  • $US 60.00 covers the average of the cost of our monthly Zoom subscription fee
  • $US 120.00 covers the average monthly cost of the MailChimp subscription
  • $US 300.00 covers the current cost of 3 months of website management fees

PLEASE DONATE HERE: https://www.dementiaallianceinternational.org/donate/

If you need a certificate of attendance, please email us at [email protected]

Note: the Q&A  session at the end of our webinars are never available publicly, and therefore will not be available after the event. Some webinars are available on our YouTube channel, but not all depending on each presenter, or the quality of the recording.

Hello, my name is Peter Berry

Following on from the World Alzheimer’s Month series of #Hello blogs, we continue to share our members stories. Peter Berry from the UK has been doing a weekly video podcast about his experience of living with dmentia, now up to his 70th. This one was  focuses on the difficulties of a diagnosis, and stigma. Thank you Peter for giving us permission to share your 25th video here.

Dementia Awareness: difficulties of a diagnosis

Peter Berry on Twitter 
Peter Berry on YouTube
Studio Interview with Peter Berry representing DAI

Cultural Competence and Dementia by Dr David Paulson

Embracing Cultural Competence whilst Changing the Conversation on Dementia

By David Paulson © 2018

“Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity. Relationship building is fundamental to cultural competence and is based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and subsequently building on the strength of each other’s knowledge, using a wide range of community members and resources to build on their understandings.” Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Frameworkp21; Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p57.

Image source: David Paulson

I had just finished presenting on a panel discussion at a Dementia conference. A tall, jovial middle-eastern man in his 20s approached me. We chatted and found we could talk on many topics, so we went for a walk-and-talk. The topic being dementia, and me knowing utterly nothing about his home country, I opened the door by telling how my family handled my paternal grandmother’s senility, and later my Dad’s Lewy Body Dementia.

My grandmother was in her 90s in 1979 when she was abruptly taken from her farm where she’d lived alone since my grandfather’s premature death in 1960. No one explained anything to her or asked what her wishes were. She was tucked away in another city in a nursing home where no one would see her and “embarrass” the family, and that was my parents’ generation’s goal.

To continue  the conversation with my acquaintance from a part of the world about which I know absolutely nothing, I simply asked how many first cousins he had, first stating I had 9, they mostly lived within an hour’s drive and I knew all their families.

He threw his head back and had a good laugh. “My family would fill this convention center, and where I’m from – we’re ALL related in some way. I know of over 120 first cousins!” Since my partner passed away during the AIDS epidemic and our foster sons are in their early 40s now and I’ve not had contact with them in years, I have no family other than my birth family and relatives. He found that tragic and shocking. “How do you not kill yourself from loneliness?” I was aghast at his question and fell silent.

In Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (1976), Michael Tolliver famously confesses to his hippie friend Mona, “All I really need are five good friends” while he fails over and over (and over) again to find true love. That is part of our culture – many find love in their close friends, forming close, enduring families of friends.

My new acquaintance couldn’t begin to wrap his mind around that, he being from a clan-based culture. So this was the opportunity to ask him if he had any relatives with dementia. I mean, with all those relatives, there mustbe at least a few! He said, “well of course there are some. But you’ll never know who they are. We surround them like the leaves of a head of lettuce, care for them and make sure they live with dignity.”

“Yes, but are their individual rights respected? Are they allowed freedom?” He tut-tutted me the way someone with a British-English accent does.

“You’re trying to understand this through American sensibilities. Turn that off and see through them through my eyes. We never discuss it – we just know they’re losing it, and we deal with it.”

And then he didn’t want to talk about that or anything else any more, politely bade me farewell before we even introduced ourselves strode off and hopped in a taxi.

As of this writing, Dementia Alliance Internationalis active in at least 47 countries and several languages. Our first barrier is the concept of the “Support Group.” Most countries only understand a support group as being AA, and some non-alcoholics in many countries would find it pretty disturbing to sit around at spill one’s guts to other human beings – and have that accomplish anything. But today it is a widely accepted model for recovery in the U.S..

In mental health, vastly fewer support groups exist for persons with mental disease, especially those with severe mental disease. For example, those with schizophrenia, are often not expected or trusted to be able to think or speak for themselves – many are homeless or imprisoned. Support groups that do exist are for the poor families and caregivers who “suffer” silently at their sides (sarcasm). The concept of support groups for persons with any form of Dementia when DAI was first established first was shrugged off, then roundly criticized and now is become an emerging model of living well with Dementia.

For this model of living well with Dementia to continue to proliferate, it can only do so in a context of continuous building of cultural competency. As s DAI embraces persons and groups from other cultures/languages, keeping in mind that a different language is inextricably related to another culture, and not all people who speak a language share a particular culture.

My sister and I visited her friends in Liverpool years ago. I am a polyglot, but I could scarcely understand a word they said, nor they I. They understood my French better than my English. How is this anecdote relevant? For our online support groups to continue to grow in other languages and cultures, we must ask the right questions relevant to others’ cultures and technologies before we begin to extoll the many benefits of DAI.

For example:

  • Do you have access to a device that can broadcast and stream video/audio? Netbooks & tablets start at around $140, have cams and mics. Smartphones are more.
  • Do you have wifi accessible that supports streaming video?
  • Is there a quiet place you can use your device privately to stream a chat with others?
  • Will your family permit you to speak freely online to a group of people who also have dementias?

Culture is: technology, expectations of conduct (profanity, clothing, topics like politics or religion, cross-talk[1], expression of anger/disgust, taboo topics, observations of religious and civic holidays, etcetera), and certainly how much one discloses in a support group.

For example, in my case I was brought up not to disclose how I feltabout something; that was vulgar. One of my grandmothers was born in the end of the Victorian age in 1894, so she held those values firm. We all have some core values that have more to do with our respect for those who raised than our own beliefs. Those are simply part of our families’ cultures.

DAI does not seek to change other’s cultures. Rather, we endeavor to continuously better acculturate ourselves to persons with dementia from throughout the world. Many of our support groups are cross-cultural. Some are even cross-linguistic as we share the common goal of living well with differing dementias.

It is my personal goal to continue to integrate persons with dementias from cultures speaking the Romance family of languages as I am a Romance Linguist. Many of us who are monolingual are “fluent” in understanding other cultures, ready and able to create a conversation about Dementia which will be of continuous benefit to persons from many diverse cultures. In our support groups, we:

  1. open new channels of Communication, respectful of
  2. diverse Cultures, making
  3. new Connections among persons with dementia and support agencies, often making
  4. Comparisons among ourselves despite the distance, boundaries and languages that divide us, and forming
  5. newCommunities of support, fellowship, laughter, friendship and love.

We do all we can to live well with dementia.[2]

Consider donating to DAI to help support our online Support Groups as we continue to grow throughout the world, fighting the one thing about Dementia that most cultures share: Shame of having a family member with dementia, their forced Isolation and lack of Support and Protection for those living with the disease and their caregivers.

[1]Persons from an Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar background tend to reallyhate cross talk. In AA, everyone gets a turn, and when everyone has finished, then you may have a 2nd turn if there’s time, but you don’t talk back and forth or you are immediately scolded.

[2]Adapted from the World Readiness Standards developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

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