One of the biggest issues that people diagnosed with dementia face is loneliness: for many, keeping up with regular groups and activities becomes harder, and friends tend to drop away. But long-time Mackay resident and Ozcare client Harry Bishop has shown that, with a positive attitude and a good support network, loneliness is avoidable for people living with dementia.
Throughout September, Ozcare will be doing its bit to promote Dementia Awareness Month. The theme for this year is ‘You are not alone’.
Harry was diagnosed with dementia in 2014. At the time he struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis. Harry’s working life had been steeped in agricultural science research, and with that came a fair amount of travel within Australia and overseas.
“I did a lot of driving and travelling around during my working life, but a few years ago gradually started to feel as if my life was starting to go in slow motion. I started to get confused where I was and which direction I had to go, especially at roundabouts and intersections. The grandkids had a playground close by that I often used to take them to, but they had to rescue me and show me the way to it. Not only that, I began to forget things. Sometimes I couldn’t recognise my closer friends I’d known for years. I started to lose self-confidence,” Harry said.
While the diagnosis brought clarity for Harry, it also brought grief.
“To say I was devastated is an understatement. My family was too."
Harry says one of his first challenges was losing his driver’s licence, and having to rely on his wife Cathy and family to drive him around.
“I lost my independence and the little bit of self-confidence I still had. But after the initial shock and grief (and I did grieve for a while) I decided to make the most of the situation.”
Last year Harry was referred to Ozcare’s Dementia Advisory and Support Service, where he began working with dementia advisor Diane Barber. Ozcare’s Dementia Advisory and Support Service offers information and support to people living with dementia and their family carers. Harry was also linked with Home Transport Mackay, an organisation that helps Harry with getting from A to B several times a week. With Diane’s help, Harry got started on going to a local Men’s Shed.
“I’m glad we accepted Ozcare’s help. Being more independent has greatly improved my self-esteem and self-confidence and has also relieved pressure on Cathy, who has become my principal carer.”
Harry keeps up with a range of groups on a regular basis.
“I joined the Beaconsfield Men’s Shed and go there twice a week, and also to my Diabetes Support Group and Alzheimer’s social group BBQ once a month. Recently, I had respite care at our own home during the day, for two weeks, which allowed Cathy to follow her palaeontology pursuits at a dinosaur dig in Winton.”
At home, Harry says his daily routine also helps.
“I have a routine each morning of feeding the chooks, feeding and tending to my horse, Redgie, then tending to my fruit trees and garden. Cathy and I go out to lunch and socialise with friends quite a bit. We see our daughter, her husband and our local grandkids at least once a week and have a reunion with the extended family once a year.”
Harry is adamant that he will not become lonely: “We refuse to isolate ourselves. The thing is: I believe there is plenty I can do. It’s just no good concentrating on ‘getting back’ the little bit I may have ‘lost’. Better to concentrate on what abilities I have now.”
“At present I am dictating a book about my life, for my family, so in the future my grandkids will know who I am. I have to write myself lists of what I have to do and my short-term memory is a bit of a problem, but inside, I’m still me. I’m so lucky to have a supportive family and circle of friends, but most of it must come from a positive attitude to life.”
Keeping in touch
There is so much that friends and family can do, to stay in touch with a person with dementia and support them. Here are some tips from our dementia advisors:
- Don’t be afraid of dementia: try to find out more about it with our dementia information section
- Try to keep up the communication, even if memory or language problems make it harder
- Support the person to continue with their interests and social networks as much as possible
- Be flexible and patient: activities once enjoyed together may or may not work so well now, so consider trying new ways of spending time together
- Don’t let distance be a barrier – still try to keep in touch via telephone or internet. For some people with dementia, using Facetime or Skype may actually be easier, as they can connect the person and the voice easily.
Linking with others in the same situation can also lead to new friendships and a new support network. Organisations such as Dementia Alliance International (DAI) and Dementia Awareness and Advocacy Team (DAAT) are good examples of dementia groups that can offer support and encouragement to people living with dementia – because members of these groups have dementia too.
For Harry, keeping up with a range of networks – the local Men’s Shed, his local diabetes support group – has been important. These groups have shown that they are ‘dementia-friendly’, by supporting Harry’s ongoing involvement, even though they are not specifically set up for people living with dementia.
Here’s hoping that – with growing awareness of dementia – many more groups and organisations offer dementia-friendly support to people living with dementia and their families and friends.