Helping those who care for people with dementia

Morgan Liotta

11/09/2018 3:12:30 PM

The impacts of dementia are not confined to the person with the disorder.

Dr Marita Long highlights the importance of dementia education for GPs to pass on to those who are carers of people with dementia.
Dr Marita Long highlights the importance of dementia education for GPs to pass on to those who are carers of people with dementia.

When a loved one is unable to care for themselves, physically or mentally, it is not uncommon for a family member to step in as their carer.
However, the effects of being a carer for a person with a cognitive impairment like dementia can be significant.
newsGP spoke with Dr Marita Long, a GP with a special interest in dementia, about the impacts of being a carer for someone with dementia and the resources available to help.

According to Dr Long, there are currently more than 200,000 Australians providing informal, unpaid assistance to people with dementia.
‘The vast majority of people with dementia living in the community – 91% – rely on an informal carer to support them; most are either the spouse or adult child of the person with dementia,’ Dr Long told newsGP.
‘This role [of carer] can impact on the carer’s mental and physical health.’
Dr Long highlights the potential impacts to include anxiety, depression, stress, fatigue, impaired immunity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
‘The role [of caring for someone with dementia] can put carers at risk of social isolation and impact on their work relationships, financial situation, can cause family conflict and reduces their time for any self-care,’ she said.
Dr Long experienced the effects of being a carer first-hand after her father developed dementia before he recently died.
‘I had a very personal and up-close experience of seeing someone I loved being effectively “taken” by dementia,’ she said.
‘He certainly taught me a lot about what a devastating illness dementia can be; not only on the person with dementia, but on those in the caring role as well.’
From her experiences with her father and a career in healthcare, Dr Long has found there are many support strategies available to carers of people with dementia, most which can be accessed GP.
‘GPs are ideally positioned to identify, diagnose and manage dementia,’ Dr Long said.
‘They know their patients and families well in the setting of the larger community context.’
In her own professional context, Dr Long completed two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre at the University of Tasmania: the Understanding Dementia MOOC and the Preventing Dementia MOOC.
She recommends courses such as these to ensure GPs have access to the relevant education to assist them with not only their own dementia patients, but also guiding the carers of people with dementia.
‘The education about dementia is put together by great teams, primarily GPs, to develop and deliver workshops on identifying, diagnosing and managing dementia in general practice,’ Dr Long said.
The objective is that, when put in to practise, the education GPs receive can be passed on to the community – the family members who are the carers of people with dementia.
‘Sharing information and education is an important component of the education workshops,’ Dr Long said.
‘Structured multicomponent, individualised psychoeducational and psychosocial interventions tend to show the most positive improvements in carer outcomes.
‘The better the health of the carers, the later the patient with dementia will need to be transitioned into nursing home care.’
September is Dementia Awareness Month. The RACGP has a number of resources available to assist GPs with assessment and management of dementia:

carers dementia Dementia Awareness Month

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