Equipping carers to cope with cruel disease
CARING for a dementia sufferer can be an isolating and confusing experience, although help is increasingly at hand to ensure patients and their loved ones are well-equipped for the challenges.
Last week that help came in the form of a dementia awareness day at St Bartholomew's Church in Alstonville, featuring local medical and dementia specialists answering questions about the illness.
Organiser Gerri White, who cared for her husband Stuart for a decade while he suffered from Parkinson's disease and dementia, said becoming a carer was initially a confusing experience.
"It was four to five years of feeling something was wrong before Stuart was diagnosed. I found that period very difficult," Mrs White said.
"A big part of being a carer is the isolation. Sometimes you can't leave the person unless you can get respite care so you are restricted in what you can do.
- 332,000 Australians living with it in 2014
- 1800 newly-diagnosed cases each week
- That figure is expected to double by 2030
- Expected to reach one million sufferers by 2050
"As it went along, you suffer grief, you develop ways of managing the situation, and try to - where possible - take part in a normal life.
"You also have to take over roles you didn't have before.
"I'm not a maths person, and my husband was an accountant. I found it extremely challenging to take over the management of our finances.
"The other issue was when my husband had to give up his driver's licence. To lose that was very hard for him ... it's that loss of independence."
Pamela Leadbetter from the local Dementia Outreach Service, which covers Grafton to Tweed and west to Bonalbo/Urbenville, said many loved ones of dementia patients found the diagnosis to be a "relief" because they already suspected it.
Geriatrician Dr Hugh Fairfull-Smith agreed the diagnosis gave a "perspective" on the changes.
"It's not just normal aging, it's a condition," he said.
"It's also about altering expectations. People have to make a lot of adjustments.
"The person with a condition can't change ... (so) the people around them have to."
Dr Fairfull-Smith said 80% of his work was focused on dementia, and due to increased awareness diagnosing was getting more difficult as patients presented far earlier in the lifecycle of the illness.