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Caring for someone living with dementia

Caring for someone living with dementia can be challenging physically and emotionally. If you're caring for someone living with dementia, it's important to understand that if their needs and behaviour change, it may not be anyone's fault. It can be a good idea to talk to a health professional.

You can call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 for free and confidential information and emotional support. Visit the Dementia Australia website for carer help sheets.

What do dementia carers experience?

As you look after a person living with dementia, you may experience changes in the person’s:

  • communication needs
  • eating and nutrition needs
  • hygiene needs
  • continence needs
  • sleeping habits
  • memory abilities
  • behaviour.

Although these changes can be upsetting, they are not deliberate and there are many strategies that may help.

Protecting yourself from aggressive behaviour

Dementia can influence a person's behaviour, including wandering, depression, anxious or agitated states, hallucinations and false ideas, loss of inhibition, and aggression.

The Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service (DBMAS) offers people living with dementia and their carers support in managing behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, such as wandering and aggression. Visit the DBMAS website to find out more. Or, for clinical support, information and advice, contact them on 1800 699 799 (24 hours a day).

Working with health professionals

As dementia progresses, you'll probably meet many health professionals involved in the care of your family member or friend. Think of these people as part of your team.

Make sure you tell each health professional that the person you care for has dementia. You can find important questions to ask health professionals in Diagnosis, treatment and care for people with dementia: A consumer companion guide.

It is important to have a doctor who can provide you with good support, take time to answer your questions and show empathy for the person you care for. Remember, if you don't understand what is being said, don't be afraid to ask the doctor to say it again in a different way.

You can find helpful information, including questions to ask about medicines and dementia, at NPS MedicineWise.

Medical or dental care needs

People living with dementia get the same illnesses as everyone else. The difference is they may have difficulty communicating this to you or their health professional. For example, if they are in pain you can look for symptoms such as behavioural changes, crying, facial movements or if they are reluctant to move.

You may also consider regular dental appointments. As dementia progresses, people living with dementia often suffer from problems such as reduced production of saliva, changed eating habits and reduced ability to look after their oral and dental health.

What support is available?

If you're looking after someone living with dementia, there are services that offer education and support as well as respite care.

For free and confidential information and emotional support, call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500. The following support services are also a good place to start.

Legal help

As dementia is a degenerative condition it's important for people living with dementia and their carers to get their affairs in order and plan for the future as early as possible. Find out more about legal support for carers.

Carer support groups

Carer support groups can offer you a safe place to talk about your role as a carer. They can put you in touch with other carers who may be experiencing similar things to you so you can share advice and suggestions to support each other. For information about dementia carer groups in your area, call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

Carer respite

You may be able to access a variety of government-subsidised planned respite services, including emergency respite. Emergency respite is provided through the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres. Carer Gateway, which provides practical information and resources to support carers, has more information to get you started.

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Last reviewed: 3 May, 2018.