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​Dementia Action Week highlights the discrimination of people living with dementia​

Dementia Action Week 2020, running from 21-27 September, aims to put a spotlight on the struggles and discrimination experienced by people living with dementia in Australia. The national awareness week starts today, 21 September, which is also World Alzheimer's Day.

A little support makes a lot of difference and can assist a person with dementia in living a full, happy and active life. [Source: iStock]
A little support makes a lot of difference and can assist a person with dementia in living a full, happy and active life. [Source: iStock]

At the start of this year's Action Week, Dementia Australia, peak body for people living with dementia, released survey results that found three out of four people who have dementia believe that people don't keep in touch with them like they previously did and 65 percent believe people they know, actively avoid or exclude them.

This survey reveals how big the issue of discrimination is for people living with dementia, as well as highlighting how this behaviour impacts a person living with dementia, their families and carers. 

Chief Executive Officer of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe, says the survey results would be very distressing for people who live with dementia, however, she believes that these findings could be improved on.

"What these findings say is that discrimination stems from a lack of understanding and knowledge of dementia, what it is and how it impacts people," explains Ms McCabe.

"A little bit of support can make a really big difference to someone with dementia.

"It could be as simple as giving someone space to do things for themselves, listening to the person, not trying to solve all their problems, giving the person time to find the right words or using technology to support someone in their day-to-day activities."

The survey also found that 94 percent of family members, friends and carers who participated in the survey believe people haven't been in touch with a relative with dementia as they used to, 71 percent say the person with dementia hasn't been included in family activities, and 80 percent say people have avoided their friend or relative with dementia when they see them out and about.

Additionally, 81 percent of respondents believe that people with dementia are treated differently in cafés, restaurants and shops and 90 percent of respondents believe their loved one with dementia is receiving less respect than other people.

The theme for this year's Dementia Action Week is 'Dementia. A little support makes a lot of difference’. The aim of the campaign is to showcase how a little bit of support can assist a person with dementia in living a full, happy and active life.

Creating the concept of this year's Dementia Action Week, dementia advocates were brought on board to provide real life experiences of dementia.

Ann Pietsch lives with dementia and shares her view that people with dementia need to be treated like regular, everyday people.

"The stereotypes are that we’re all elderly and we’re all losing our memories and that we can’t really manage anything much," says Mrs Pietsch.

"There are so many different people with dementia and there are so many types of dementias with all sorts of symptoms. It’s not just forgetting things, it’s more than that. It might be being unable to get organised or organise your day or your thoughts, or having a fuzzy day, as I call it.

"One of the most helpful ways of managing my dementia is to remain positive and to live well with dementia. I volunteer at the museum and I really enjoy meeting people and talking to people. It’s very rewarding."

Theresa Flavin, featured in this year's dementia campaign, provided her story of how she took up horse-riding after she was diagnosed with dementia.

"I found an awesome coach who I really trusted and she gave me confidence. She was so patient. She broke the whole thing into little pieces of information that my brain could process," explains Ms Flavin.

"She gave me that confidence and I felt like a hero, I am just the bee’s knees sitting here on my horse."

Diagnosed with dementia five years ago, Tim Granger tells his story of how his support worker is helping him access the gym so he can exercise.

"Exercise gives me pleasure. It helps me do what I have to do and get things going. I couldn’t live without it, really," says Mr Granger.

Ms McCabe says the stories of Mrs Pietsch, Ms Flavin and Mr Granger are a prime example of how a little support can go a long way in making a difference in someone's life.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Richard Colbeck, says the two initiatives running this week for Dementia Action Week and World Alzheimer's Day are an important opportunity to assist those who are struggling with a difficult health diagnosis.

"It is very confronting, not just for the individual, but for their family and friends," says Minister Colbeck.

"Dementia already affects nearly half a million Australians and the number is rising rapidly. For Australia, and similar countries around the world, it represents a huge health challenge.

"While dementia is a progressive condition, people can continue to live active and happy lives for many years after diagnosis.

"They deserve support not just from their families but from the community as a whole, to allow them to live their best lives as long as possible."

To find out more about how to support someone living with dementia, you can head to Dementia Australia's website.

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