Urgent call for investment and research into dementia

More than 340,000 Australians are living with dementia, and that figure is expected to climb to 400,000 within the decade.



Experts say there’s a critical need for more investment and research into this mostly incurable condition.


When Brian Ridden was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, his wife Elva became his primary carer.


Only two years later, Elva was diagnosed as well.


The couple recently celebrated their diamond anniversary, and have managed to cope with their conditions by helping each other.


“He has strengths that I don’t have have and so he’s been able to do things I can’t do and I’ve been able to do things he can’t do and so we’ve formed a partnership which is working pretty well, to this stage.”


The couple, from Shepparton in northeast Victoria, say the best coping mechanism is to stay active.


Brian plays tennis and writes, while Elva runs a music group.


They say recognising your symptoms and not living in denial is critical for people suffering dementia.


“You have to get out there and do things and be yourself and do what you usually do. Sure, if you need help? OK, get help! So attitude has a great deal to do with it.”


In Australia, there are around 1,800 new dementia diagnoses each week.


Without a medical breakthrough, there are estimates close to a million Australians could be living with the condition by 2050.


CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria, Maree McCabe, says Australia needs to improve the support systems available to sufferers.


“When someone’s got a physical disability you can actually see that, and our communities actually cater quite well for people with physical disabilities. But we are such a long way from being able to support people with a cognitive disability and I think they interpret that – someone with a cognitive disability – as behaving strangely, or they’re just old, or they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re the kind of things that people say. When in fact, it’s not that, it’s actually a condition, a disease of the brain. And we need to educate the public about that.”


She says the lack of public discussion about dementia can be dangerous.


“A diagnosis of dementia is one of the most profoundly isolating diagnoses and people are scared of it and with that fear comes taking themselves away at a time when people living with dementia, their families and carers need us the most.”


Gill Ayling is head of Global Action Against Dementia in the UK Department of Health, and is in Australia to talk about the UK dementia strategy.


She says people need to be educated about dementia from a young age, to destigmatise the condition and help sufferers recognise their symptoms.


“If you think about the stigma and lack of awareness of dementia. If you can start creating that awareness with children, just imagine what would happen in the next 10 to 15 years as the disease is progressing. So we’ve been working with schools in the UK and having it within the curriculum.”


For Brian and Elva Ridden, the best treatment is recognising and embracing their condition, while also getting on with their lives.


“You know, it’s very important with dementia to not hide in a burrow and a lot people get very down and depressed and they draw into themselves, but it’s the worst thing you can do.”