Every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia.
In Australia alone, more than 425,000 people are living with dementia, an umbrella term for more than 100 neurological conditions where the main symptom is a decline in brain function. Alzheimer‘s is just one of them.
In June this year, The Veronica‘s singers Lisa and Jessica Origliasso opened up about the fear and isolation involved in their mother Colleen‘s battle with dementia.
Their mum is now receiving 24-hour care in Brisbane after four years of misdiagnosis.
The pop duo were named ambassadors for Dementia Australia at a recent event in Parliament House in Canberra, supporting education and early diagnosis “because we didn‘t get that with our mum”.
“It‘s a difficult thing for anyone going through that diagnosis; that range of emotions that their body has failed them in some way and not understanding how,” the sisters told Confidential. “It was very scary and it can feel isolating.”
But now, new technology is helping those who have no idea what it is like to have the disease to see the world through the eyes of a person living with dementia.
Lisa and Jessica Origliasso from the Veronicas. Photo / Getty Images facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Using virtual reality, the confronting technology allows carers to experience what their loved ones see every day. It is part of the campaign #Every3Seconds run by the global peak body Alzheimer‘s Disease International, which is being supported by Dementia Australia along with 22 other organisations from around the world.
The virtual reality technology is the first of its kind, and is Dementia Australia‘s contribution to the campaign.
Doug Woods has cared for his wife Kathy for three years.
He said it was very confronting to experience what his wife was going through on a daily basis.
“Like looking into the bathroom for example … where it is all white … and not recognising the toilet. She is looking in a cupboard instead and it‘s things like that, that we take for granted, which they can‘t identify and it‘s quite confronting to think she walks into the bathroom and can‘t identify the toilet,” Mr Woods told news.au.
He said by placing yourself in their position “you can now understand their concerns”.
“What we see as home decoration such as a rug, for them they see a hole in the ground.
“I hope we can get more people to do this exercise to highlight to them what people living with dementia go through and find ways to continue to help them in their everyday lives.”
While there is no single specific test that can identify whether someone has dementia, the earlier you act, the better.
According to Dementia Australia, if you have noticed increasing lapses in memory or other changes in your thinking or behaviour, it is important to see your doctor sooner rather than later.
It also emphasised not to assume someone has dementia — strokes, depression, alcoholism, infections, hormone disorders, nutritional deficiencies and brain tumours can all cause dementia-like symptoms.
But Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said more needs to be done.
She said without a medical breakthrough, “the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to an estimated 1.1 million in 2056 in Australia”.
It is why Dementia Australia has joined the #Every3Seconds program.
Ms McCabe said the program highlights that dementia is the global health and social challenge of this century which needs a renewed and sustained focus by governments and communities worldwide.
“Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to an estimated 1.1 million in 2056 in Australia,” she said.
Currently, it is estimated there are more than 50 million people living with dementia worldwide. This figure is predicted to increase by 10 million in 2018.
She said with these staggering numbers, program partners will call on communities and governments all over the world to commit to addressing this trillion-dollar disease.
The program includes a series of 23 news-style films which capture stories from the many different dementia organisations around the world, and drives home the message that dementia is not a natural part of ageing, but in fact a disease of the brain.
The Veronicas are supporting Dementia Australia‘s “Dementia Friend” campaign, a social movement to help build awareness of dementia in the community.
“Everyone In Australia will have an association with (dementia) going forward and it‘s about greater compassion,” they said.
The 33-year-old twin sisters said they were “very under-educated (about dementia) and that has really been the driving force for us to be ambassadors”.