Increasingly and unfortunately, the disease of dementia is becoming like cancer … every Tasmanian has a story about both.
The statistics tell a distressing story. Today in Australia, an estimated 425,000 people are living with dementia. Without a medical breakthrough, this number is expected to increase to more than one million by 2050. It’s estimated there were 7818 Tasmanians living with dementia in 2015, with a projection of 13,544 by 2040.
Dementia is also recognised as the second leading cause of death of Australians, contributing to 5.4 per cent of all deaths in men and 10.6 per cent in women each year.
Projections say there will be 318 people diagnosed every day by 2025, and more than 650 people each day by the middle of the century. Currently, one in three Australians over 85 has dementia. About 70 per cent of Australians with dementia are living in the community, while more than half the permanent residents in government-funded aged care facilities have some form of the condition.
Dementia is one of the major reasons older people enter residential aged care or seek assistance to continue to live in their own homes.
As compelling as these figures are, they cannot convey the sense of isolation, the heartache, the grief, the sadness for individuals, their families and loved ones when dementia starts to change the way people think, feel and act.
These are the reasons General Practice Training Tasmania, in partnership with the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre at the University of Tasmania, has developed the Dementia Care Training and Education Program for GPs and Practice Nurses.
GPs and nurses are able to diagnose early dementia in their patients, providing opportunities, including: The chance for treatment to improve symptoms;
Opportunity for future planning and decision making;
To get your affairs in order and smooth the path for the future; and
Opportunity to access community services and support for the person living with dementia and for family and carers.
Your local GP is usually the first port of call, yet dementia literacy among health professionals, as well as in the community and the aged care sector, is alarmingly low.
Barriers to early diagnosis include:
People’s fear and avoidance of the condition;
Perceptions of dementia as “normal ageing”; and
A person’s lack of insight into their declining cognitive function.
GPTT’s Dementia Care Training and Education Program aims to deliver training through a simple, online resource. It aims to enhance:
Identification, diagnosis and management of patients in general practice;
The ability to provide strategies such as recall and reminder systems for care;
The capacity to assess the carer’s knowledge and role in providing support; and
The ability to deliver information and support to the carer regarding the need for respite or institutional care.
This is especially important in rural and remote communities, where there can be long waiting times for appointments with public specialists.
Timely diagnosis provides more certainty and assistance to families and carers.
Practice nurses will benefit from being able to better recognise dementia symptoms and to provide support.
Families will benefit from earlier diagnosis, assisting them to plan with and provide support for a family member and to put in place options needed for future care.
GPTT, with its relationship with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation, has placed emphasis on the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Evaluation of this program has demonstrated some early changes in health professionals’ clinical behaviour, resulting from improved awareness, knowledge and confidence in managing and supporting dementia patients in general practice.
Tasmanian GPs care for their patients, often from cradle to grave, and being able to better recognise and diagnose dementia will assist sufferers and their families now and into the future.
Story featured in the Mercury newspaper’s Talking Point on Wednesday 2 May, 2018