As part of Dementia Awareness Month during September, Alzheimer’s Australia held a number of lecture series across the country to raise dementia awareness and let people know that they are not alone.
We welcomed Vicki Noonan at one of these talks at Tweed Heads on the Gold Coast to share her very personal, but honest experience about how to live well with dementia.
Vicki was diagnosed with younger onset dementia when she was 58 years old. Shortly after, calls from family stopped coming because they weren’t sure how to be around her.
“It frightens them, they don't know what to say or do, so the easiest thing is to stay away,” said Vicki.
“It was terribly isolating.”
Recent research has shown that people with dementia are twice as likely to suffer loneliness than the average person.
A lack of awareness and stigma associated with the condition often means that people stay away. But communicating clearly with close people around you can often help.
“Make sure that you tell your close friends and family about your diagnosis and be clear with them that you want to be treated the same. Don’t assume people will do this automatically.”
“Also be proactive and invite people round for a coffee or meet a friend for lunch. If my close friends and family see me as the same person, they will feel more comfortable keeping in touch.”
“I am still the same person; my brain just doesn't function as well as it used to. It is important that you let people know that you may need some help and that is ok.”
Tips from Vicki for living well with dementia
Don’t push yourself: “Some days I do a lot and other days I can’t do anything and I accept this."
Make sure you do things that you feel like doing: One of the best ways to live well is to follow your interests, whatever that might be. My husband has made a list of the things I like to do and posted these on the kitchen cupboard so that I can see this every day.”
Look after your body: I eat healthy meals as my brain needs good nutrients and I drink a lot of water.” “Because I have lost my sense of hunger, I have an alarm system that reminds me when to eat, drink and go to the toilet.” “I also exercise daily and try to go for a 30-60 minute walk every day.”
Try something new: “Get involved in something new like aqua aerobics or craft activities – it is great for your brain, it is fun and who cares if you don’t do it well.”
Laugh a lot: “Laughter is really the best medicine. It releases feel-good hormones, endorphins, improves mental function, stimulation and decreases stress. I go to a group sometimes where we often do some laughing exercises which is great “I also love being silly and play with my little dog every day, often chasing him around the house.”
“I don't suffer from dementia, I live with it and we can learn to live well with it. I have taken this as a challenge.”
“We deserve to have fun and there is no reason why we can't. I’ve learned how to adapt and take every challenge one step at a time.”
“Look for the positive things in life and you will be ok.”
Thank you Vicki for being so brave and sharing your story with others.
About Younger Onset Dementia
Younger onset dementia is a term used to describe the onset of symptoms of dementia before the age of 65, including as young as 30. Based on research evidence, it is estimated that more than 26,600 people in Australia have younger onset dementia.
Alzheimer’s Australia provides individualised information and support to improve the quality of life for people with younger onset dementia.
This program is designed specifically for people in the early stages of dementia who have been diagnosed aged 65 years and under and provides specific information related to this age group and focuses on ways to help maintain a person’s abilities as well as offering practical strategies for living with dementia.
Alzheimer’s Australia also offers a number of educational workshops for people living with dementia including:
- Early intervention – this session will provide an introduction to dementia, causes, symptoms and typical changes that may occur. Also discussed are services available to support the person and the family including further education sessions.
- Living with memory loss – this session is designed specifically for people in the early stages of dementia who want to share their experiences or feelings with others in the same situation.
- Living with change – this special group program run by a counsellor is designed to support and assist with the feelings experienced by carers, family members and friends of people with dementia.
- Considering residential care – this session explores the issues and decisions around residential care as well as the barriers to making the decision.