Diagnosing Dementia. When to get help and what to expect

By 24th March, 2019 News No Comments

A dementia diagnosis can be game changing.

A diagnosis can give answers for strange new behaviours. It can allow families to receive practical information, advice and guidance. It opens up doorways for treatment and care, and sometimes even reverse effects.

Importantly, it can help you prepare for the future, both financially and socially.

A professional medical diagnosis informs you of the type of dementia, which can be vital in deciding treatment and planning.

However, questions of when you should seek out a diagnosis, how to do so, and what to expect often stop people from getting the help they need.

Many times people dismiss the symptoms of dementia by thinking its a part of getting older, or that they are not yet severe enough.

1. KNOWING WHEN TO GET HELP

It’s time to break down the first misconception.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s – while linked to ageing- should not be confused as ageing. Those with dementia are often mistakenly called ‘senile’, but mental decline is not a normal part of the ageing process,

Actual markers of oncoming dementia are things that impact and inhibit everyday life. Trouble with planning, finding objects, remembering upcoming events and appointments, having trouble when travelling to new areas are all signs of cognitive decline.

If you or a loved one are displaying early symptoms of dementia then you should seek help.

Alzhiemers Dementia Australia listed the 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s. This is a useful checklist for a basic examination.

A good way to self-assess is a Standard Mini-Mental State Exam (SMMSE). This is a simple test that you can find online and will only take around 10 minutes to complete. It is one of the most popular tests for cognitive function and can be easily completed with the help of a friend.

However, dementia is progressive and can get worse in a small space of time. This is especially true if there is a history or risk of heart attacks, strokes or excess of drinking and smoking.

A self-evaluation or a SMMSE is not a substitute for a professional diagnostic workup.

2. SEEKING HELP

Luckily, when it comes to diagnosing and receiving support for dementia and Alzheimer’s, there is plenty of help available.

Agencies like Dementia Australia, Alzheimer’s Association Australia, Dementia Support Australia and services like the National Dementia Helpline can give you information and assistance.

There are also open days and seminars across the country informing people of the disease. These days help families understand how their lives will be impacted and how they can adapt.

However, when it comes to diagnosis – a medical professional is best.

Your doctor or GP should be able to judge your concerns with a preliminary assessment.

The process could simply be part of a pre-booked check-up, or as an appointment on its own. It is important to tell your doctor any specific worries you have to better inform them of the situation, as well as for your own peace of mind. It is also good to use someone who you are familiar with and knows you.

You may be transferred to an outside specialist. This will normally be a:

  • Geriatrician: specialises in the health issues that affect seniors
  • Neurologist: specialises in the brain and nerves
  • Psychiatrist: specialises in emotional health and behaviours of people

They will be able to provide a more accurate and detailed health assessment than a preliminary test.

3. HOW TO BE PREPARED

Going to the doctor to get any diagnosis is always stressful. However, knowing what to expect can help make this a little less nerve racking.

Normally assessments will involve three parts, 1) a look into personal and medical history, 2) a physical and scientific examination, and 3) a cognitive test.

It is a good idea to bring along close friends or family along to the appointment to help provide accurate information and more specific details.

An effective way to illustrate the extent of your memory concerns is to start a list. Write down moments you or your loved one were confused or forgot something they should not have. These lists can help drive questions for the GP or the specialist later on.

1. Personal and medical history:

When looking into the personal and medical history of the person.

Since dementia is genetic – the likelihood of developing it later on much higher if a family member already has it. During an appointment there is usually a discussion of family health so it’s a good idea to get a grasp of the local family tree before heading in.

Medical history is also a very important factor. As mentioned early, the chances of developing dementia increase dramatically if there is any prior heart attacks, strokes or drinking and smoking.

Any current medication may also be having side effects that appear as symptoms of dementia, so an overlook will determine whether it is affecting behaviour.

2. Physical and scientific examination:

Dementia symptoms can frequently be explained by other issues,  like sleeplessness, sickness, or stress. The tests might also require a blood or urine sample to help rule out any of the following:

  • Anaemia
  • Infection
  • Electrolyte balance (salt and water) 
  • Liver function
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Thyroid function
  • Drug interactions and dosing problems

3. Cognitive tests:

Finally, a cognitive test will evaluate mental functions. This can be memory and spatial judgement, concentrations and problem solving. The details of the tests depend on whether you are visiting a specialist.

Cognitive tests determine what type of dementia might be present and help in making any medical recommendations.

Art Therapy Fundraiser a Success!

Some of the beautiful works by our residents across Twilight!

Over $2K worth of cognitive art therapy funds were raised in our Senior Art Exhibition at Glades Bay Gardens last October.

The art show was created by our residents from across all of Twilight Aged Care and included gorgeous works from water colour to gold leaf. The canvases were sold to support creative programs held fortnightly by Art-Based Cognitive Therapy for those living in the residential homes.

Julianne Walker, our volunteer and project coordinator, said that the exhibition was a success in more than one way. The show raised over $2,262 for the art therapy and connected the residents to the local community while positively stimulating and engaging them.

Dementia is the single largest cause of disability for older Australians. Over half of the residential age care population is living with dementia. It affects three in 10 Australian’s over the age of 85 and one in 10 Australians over 65.

Art therapy has been seen to reduce the effects of dementia and improve wellbeing and motor functions. The process of making the artworks has been greatly beneficial to those living at Twilight Aged Care and engaged residents cognitively and technically.

Julianne said that art therapy provides great enjoyment for the residents living with dementia, and those suffering from depression and anxiety.

She has stated that having this program across the Twilight homes provides a “sense of community”. Select artworks from the exhibition are now proudly decorating the homes in a permanent in-house collection.

Julianne is now busy planning for the next art show in October 2019, and says she expects it to be even bigger and better!

Christmas at Horton House

Christmas came early this year at Horton House Residential Aged Care Facility as families and guests came together for a festive celebration!

Residents and guests enjoying a Christmas afternoon tea!

The residents and guests savoured a glass of wine (or bubbly) and an extensive variety of finger foods. With the home cooking up pastries, sandwiches, fruit platters, Christmas coconut balls and fruit mince pies.

Residents like Annette, noted the ‘festive atmosphere’ of the day, “everyone’s happy and very lovely”, she said.

Fiona, thanked all the staff and volunteers for their effort they put into the day, by assisting in preparation for the meals, catering to those attending and assisting the residents prepare for the party. Their efforts in going ‘above and beyond’ helped make the Christmas a merry one for everyone.

For Fiona, the season is about bringing people and families together and “enjoying each other’s’ company”.

The event meant that for some couples like Max and his wife, Ruth, who lives at Horton House, could celebrate Christmas with the Horton ‘family’. The couple has known each other since they were fourteen and Max still visits his wife every day. Christmas celebrations are an important part of their lives.

The Christmas celebration has been a long-time tradition of Twilight aged care, to bring people together during this special time of year.

Christmas at Glades Bay Gardens

A Christmas feast and community cheer at Glades Bay Residential Aged Care Facility!

A look at some the wonderful food that Ramina and staff put together for the Christmas lunch

The food outshone Santa this Christmas at Gladesville!

This is to be expected, as the residential village is known for its Christmas feasts and outstanding cuisines. Head cook, Ramina Shiekhali, had been preparing this jolly feast since 4 o’clock in the morning and the results were spectacular.

Towers of chocolate covered strawberries. Rice bubbles shaped into Christmas trees. Mango and avocado salad. Soy chicken drum sticks. Trifles and so much more.

The great food was no surprise to those living at Gladesville however, as resident Helen Spurrs told her daughter, Rebecca Knight, “The food is just always lovely”.

Twilight’s annual Christmas party provides opportunity for families like Helen’s to come together for the holidays.

But other residents use the Christmas lunch as an opportunity to show off some talent. Liz Matthews, a resident of Gladesville for the past four years, makes an annual performance from anything from poetry to singing and brought a rendition of Jingle Bells to the party.

Gladesville Public School wrote up Christmas messages for staff and volunteers to hand out to the residents. And community groups had contributed gifts for Twilight’s residents as well.

However, it wasn’t just the residents receiving presents, but the staff as well. Families of the residents came in and delivered gift baskets and homemade goods.

One of the parcels included fidget cushions made by one of the residents daughters for residents with dementia to engage in tactile stimulation.

The Christmas lunch has been a long-time tradition of Twilight aged care, to bring people together during the holiday. It is held annually in Gladesville Residential Aged Care Facility as well as throughout all of their four homes in the northern Sydney area.

Christmas at Glengarry

Presents from Santa, school kids and a diamond anniversary have made Christmas merrier at Glengarry Village Residential Aged Care.

Dozens of families and friends came together in celebration of Glengarry’s annual Christmas lunch on Thursday the 31th December. All the residents were in their best clothes, wearing paper crowns and breaking Christmas crackers. There was delicious food, a live performance from singer Leyla Nassif and chatter all around.

Jinky Mactal, the recreational activities officer, was the life of the party and had been sitting up and planning since 2 o’clock that morning. She had gone ‘all out’ for the Christmas lunch, and was constantly grabbing more chairs for the increasing number of resident’s guests.

It was well worth the effort according to Jinky, “To get everyone together” she said, “That is the one thing that matters to me”.

Jack and Jill Kindergarten had visited earlier in the day to sing Christmas carols to the residents. The children had been coming weekly to the home to visit those at the home as part of an Intergenerational Program that Glengarry has. The lunch was also special for another reason, it was the 60th wedding anniversary of resident David Wilcken and his wife Bridget. They were given a bunch of orchids by Twilight’s facility manager Margaret Smithson in celebration of their diamond anniversary.

However, they were not the only ones to get presents this Christmas, as local community groups and even the families had donated gifts for the residents. Santa came around with labelled and wrapped gifts for all the residents, with surprises from slippers to novels.

George Hammond-Burns as this year’s Santa

Everyone fell in love with Frankie, the soft hearted giant from Delta Therapy Dog Volunteers that put on antlers and served as Santa’s reindeer. And at the end of the day Frankie was also given a gift from Santa- a juicy bone.

George as  Santa, and Frankie the dog as Santa’s reindeer

Residents of the memory support wing, ‘Eloura’ had a quiet in the courtyard to enjoy their own Christmas festivities. Student nurses and volunteers catered their lunch with soft music for a relaxing time for the residents.

The food fit the season perfectly with classics like shaved ham and beef with gravy, roast vegetables and peas. Desert was also very popular with residents and families alike with homemade mince pies, fruit cakes and pastries.Jinky and Margaret thanked guests and staff for making the day special for the residents at the end of the lunch. The Christmas lunch has been a long-time tradition of Twilight aged care, to bring people together during the holiday. It is held annually in Glengarry Residential Aged Care Facility as well as throughout all of their four homes in the northern Sydney area.

Christmas at Hunters Hill

It was a jolly time for those at Hunter’s Hill Residential Aged Care Facility, as families, school kids and even Santa himself joined for the festivities!

Residents and families together enjoying the Christmas lunch

The community came together to create a merry experience for everyone with carols, presents and festive red and green food. Hunters Hill Public students made the Christmas cards for those staying at the home, and local groups donated raffle prizes and gifts for Santa and the children to give to the residents.

Heilala Galbraithe, a staff member at Hunters Hill said that the event meant that everyone could come together in a family Christmas that all their residents could enjoy. “They are our family too”, she said “like our own grandparents”.

Staff who had the day off, like Heilala herself, still made the trip to the home to join those setting up the lunch festivities. Facility manager, Gladys Maseko, thanked all the relatives and staff for coming and making the day more magical for the residents and their guests.

The Hunters Hill Congregational Community Church choir lead by pastor Julie Grancha, brought music and energy to the day. They had an early show that carried into lunch time, and brought a joyful spirit to the Christmas celebrations with classics like Jingle Bells and Holy Night.

However, the highlight of the day was when George Burns, one of the residents, performed the old Irish balled Danny Boy with Julie and the church choir. It was an emotionally charged moment for his family, as well as staff and residents like Helene Polhill, who recalled the moment, saying it “Brought me to tears”.

George Burns before his wonderful performance of ‘Danny Boy’

The food was catered for by Twilight’s passionate cooks, including Yvette Fonseca, who crafted a feast for those attending. Residents and families enjoyed food like vibrant Christmas coloured panna cotta and chicken puffs- the “all-time-favourite”.

The Christmas lunch has been a long-time tradition of Twilight aged care, to bring people together during the holiday. It is held annually in Hunters Hill Village Residential Aged Care Facility as well as throughout all of their four homes in the northern Sydney area.

LEST WE FORGET Ensuring the stories of our diggers live on…

We are very proud of this wonderful intergenerational community project, LEST WE FORGET Ensuring the stories of our diggers live on…

Thank you to St. Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill for agreeing to be apart of this very special project. Also thank you to Betty and the Wilson family. Betty Wilson chatted two Year 7 students about her husband John and his missions in the war.

This project was supported and funded by DVA – Department of Veterans Affair. Please enjoy as Betty share’s with you her story.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL VERSION 

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