Dementia worldwide affects about 50 million people and is expected to rise to 152 million by 2050.
In Australia, approximately 459,000 people have dementia, but in line with global trends, that number is likely to rise to 1,076,000 by 2058 unless a major medical breakthrough is discovered.
It is the second leading cause of death in Australia, and the leading cause of death for Australian women.
But what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
Dementia is an often irreversible condition caused by damage to the brain that significantly impairs its higher cognitive functions such as memory or judgment.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about 70 percent of cases in Australia.
Monday, September 21 marks World Alzheimer’s Day. For researchers working in the field of Alzheimer’s disease, such as the Director of the Melbourne Dementia Research Center, Professor Ashley Bush, the Director of the Academic Unit of Aging Psychiatry Professor Nicola Lauchlager and Geriatric Doctor Paul Yates, this is an opportunity to shed light on the ongoing challenges facing individuals, caregivers, families and healthcare professionals. In the fight against this global disease.
For people with Alzheimer’s disease, social isolation is an everyday reality – a fact made worse by the COVID-19 restrictions that still affect many of us.
There are many contributing factors that influence a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, including age-related processes, as well as environmental, social and genetic factors.
But the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease remains elusive.
Nevertheless, research continues into the “causes” and “what” of the disease.
Research aims to understand the role that iron accumulation in the brain should play in Alzheimer’s disease. Progress has also been made in understanding the pathological changes of Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on clinical outcomes.
The EXCEL study, which looks at the positive impact exercise can have on cognitive function and mental health in older adults with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, is now being presented online, rather than face-to-face, to help reduce the risk of COVID- 19.
The impact of COVID-19
The scalpel The Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care 2020 Committee recognizes that low social contact is a potential modifiable risk factor in dementia prevention.
Social isolation can exacerbate or exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety and can increase the effects of stress associated with the epidemic. This can increase the risk of cognitive decline or confusion and excitement in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Often a person with Alzheimer’s disease depends on outside support and services either in residential or at home hospice.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had the effect of increasing the risk of the virus being transferred to the aged care facility or home.
Routine care, including health checks, has changed or been postponed for many, which could lead to people having more serious problems at a later time.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease
The social interaction of both a person with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic is vital; Many family members bear the brunt of the burden when it comes to caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
The identification of the long-term effects of the epidemic on caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease is still not fully defined.
Judy McCahon, a consumer representative at the Melbourne Academic Health Care Center (MACH) Aging Network, believes there are two “patients” when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; Both the patient and the caregiver.
Before her late 40-year-old partner developed, he was “a very charismatic person – very nice, intelligent, and loving.”
As his illness progressed, he became more fragile, fearful, lost, and at times violent.
Judy describes the transition of watching her partner go from the man he was to to the man he was to become, as one of the “most difficult adjustments in life”.
She says that strong support for caregivers during this time of social isolation is crucial, as it is likely to have “profound impacts on their physical and mental health.”
“If you have family and friends – ask for support. As a caregiver – you have to be ready to talk.”
Announcement during COVID-19
The current epidemic in Melbourne has posed many challenges for the elderly as well as healthcare services and the elderly. Professor Andrea Mayer, Director of the Department of Medicine and Community Care at Royal Melbourne Hospital and Head of MACH Care of the Aging Network agrees.
“The entire healthcare system is changing due to COVID-19, and thus there is tremendous momentum to provide care to patients in their homes and care facilities.
Care has also been delivered differently since the start of the pandemic, with more emphasis on virtual consultations. The continuity of care among GPs has been streamlined into tier 3 healthcare services, building the foundation for the next generation of Alzheimer’s care.
This updated healthcare delivery ensures that every healthcare professional understands where their patients are on the healthcare journey.
This is evidenced by the collaboration of doctors and geriatricians at hospitals such as Royal Melbourne and the Residential InReach Service at Austin Hospital, as they help treat people affected by COVID-19 in residential and community aged care.
Recently, the team helped a 103-year-old girl receive treatment for COVID-19 in her nursing home and made a very good recovery.
All of these advances in clinical care and research contribute to improving and supporting the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.
If you need help, Dementia Australia and Dementia Support Australia are excellent resources for individuals and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, providing phone and internet support, as well as managing people’s changing behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic.