Living well with dementia - the influence of active ageing
What is active ageing?
As we get older, our health and wellbeing are bolstered by staying fit and healthy, keeping active and participating with others socially. Simple measures can make all the difference and include:
- eating a balanced diet
Three healthy meals a day help to keep both mind and body well.
- exercising regularly
Regular physical activity helps with all manner of things from controlling your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure to reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes.
- staying social with our peers and within our community
Our bonds with family and friends don’t just give us a sense of belonging, they help us feel needed in the community we live in.
How does active ageing differ for people with dementia?
The short answer is, that it doesn’t.
Active ageing is just as important for people with dementia as it is for people without it.
That’s why at Alzheimer’s Queensland, we make sure that a person with dementia who’s in our care gets the opportunity to continue engaging in meaningful activities that help to support their health and wellness – and maintain their social connectivity.
The challenge of risk vs opportunity
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be a challenge and it’s understandable when carers become over-protective and take decision-making out of their hands, in a bid to keep their relatives’ best interests at heart.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
People with dementia can be adequately and actively supported in the same way as if they didn’t have the condition – giving them the opportunity, within reason, to choose how they’d like to lead their day-to-day lives.
By affording them the dignity of taking risks and the access to the same healthy ageing programs as others, people with dementia can still enjoy life’s pleasures – especially if we capitalise on familiar activities that the person still enjoys and understands enough to perform, even if it’s with support.
How does this work in reality?
At the core of what we’ve always done at Alzheimer’s Queensland is focus on reablement and being restorative – it’s about working alongside the individual to remain as independent as they possibly can and also remain engaged in life and do things they would’ve done if they didn’t have this diagnosis.
“We don’t do assessments of all the things you’re unable to do,” explains Caylie Field, Community Services Manager for our Ipswich Multi-Service Centre. “We find out how much you can do, how much help you need to do that well, and do that better,” she says. “Regardless of their condition or chronic disease, everyone has the ability to make physical, social and emotional gains based on this wellness approach.”
For example, one of Caylie’s clients has dementia and Parkinson’s disease – he used to volunteer as a driver for a local community centre up until a year ago. Realising that this is still an interest of his, Caylie’s team supported him by arranging a role in a Meals on Wheels program. “Our staff member is driving the car,” she says, “but it’s him that’s actually doing the deliveries. Together they’re putting the boxes and meals together – then he’ll get the meal, knock on the door, take it into the person and help them get it sorted in their house. These are people who’ve done a lot of volunteering in the past and they want to reconnect with that important community role.”
Other clients want to keep fit so we take them for sessions at their local gym, or if they enjoy being around children, we arrange for them to do story book reading to kids in kindy. We like to offer “really strong social role activities, based on the interests of our clients and what they want to do,” adds Caylie.
We’ve found that by keeping clients engaged in meaningful life activities and hobbies, we can help to maintain, improve or slow down the progressive decline in their skills – which helps them enjoy their quality of life for longer.
“People are well,” says Caylie. “They may have chronic diseases, but they still should be treated as a well person, a whole person – not a sick patient.”
Caylie Field will be presenting at the Active Ageing Conference on 4 August 2016.
If you’d like further information about our services, please call our 24-hour Advice Line on 1800 639 331 or learn more about activities for people with dementia through our website.
Words: Ash Anand