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The world of dementia is changing

Dr Meredith Gresham reports on the 2022 HammondCare International Dementia Conference held in Sydney from 8-9 September.

Over the last few years dementia has been in spotlight with the Aged Care Royal Commission. Horrific stories have played out in the media. COVID-19 highlighted the vulnerability and isolation of older people. The 2022 HammondCare International Dementia Conference ‘Change is in the Air – Brave New World’, provided some balance by highlighting the humanity and innovation that have, and always will be, in this space.

The conference covered topics from dementia prevention to death and dying. A notable focus was early intervention for both people living with dementia and family supporters. Forward with Dementia researcher Professor Yun-Hee Jeon summarised evidence-based rehabilitation (and prevention) strategies supported by the World Health Organisation.

Dr Meredith Gresham presented the Forward with Dementia program. Tom Gauci and Holly Markwell showcased an evidence-based, intensive residential program for people with dementia and carers ‘Staying at Home’. Supported by the Australian Government for national roll out, this program is designed to give people with dementia, and carers, skills, access to supports and confidence to remain where they want to be – at home.

A lively discussion focused on the way in which small, ‘cottage model’ aged care homes are a true home-away-from-home, where residents with dementia have agency in their daily lives. After the pandemic, these models demonstrated superiority in managing infection control and consequently buoyed quality of life for residents throughout the pandemic.

Hope is on the horizon for the future. Keynote address by Prof Craig Ritchie from the University of Edinburgh presented on the mid-life origins of dementia. Risk factors, such as hearing loss, smoking, brain injury and social isolation etc. are modifiable. These can be addressed through individual prevention plans and public health policies.

The key message is to be proactive. We must look after ourselves in mid-life to reduce our risk of dementia. All levels of governments need to have public health policies and programs in place to support our ageing population. Importantly, we need to address the fear and stigma of dementia which is a barrier to diagnosis. We must encourage earlier diagnosis and use of the emerging rehabilitation and support programs so that we can positively move forward with dementia.