Ageing population highlights the need for dedicated dementia care resources

Against the backdrop of an ageing global population, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is expected to reach approximately 74.7 million people by 2030.

The last national Census in 2011 suggested that some 2.2 million people in South Africa live with dementia, a group of degenerative conditions in the brain with no known cure, that is characterised by failing memory and impaired cognitive functioning. 

A South African organisation specialising in caring for people with impaired memory is taking the lead locally in promoting quality of life for people living with dementia at its dedicated villages in Bryanston and Somerset West.

“For most of us, it is not possible to fully appreciate what living with dementia is like,” says Ivan Oosthuizen, chief executive officer of the group.

In talking about the rights of those impacted by dementia, he refers to an extract in the World Alzheimer Report 2015 – The Global Impact of Dementia, which states: “Dementia dims the voices of those affected, just when they might have most to tell us about their experiences of living with the condition, and how they would wish their rights to be respected.”

Drawing on international principles in dementia care, insights from local psychiatrists specialising in memory care, and personal experiences of loved ones living with dementia, the Livewell Villages were founded to preserve the dignity and promote quality of life for people with dementia. Through its highly personalised approach, Livewell aims to deliver a level of care that is centred around the needs of its residents.

Oosthuizen said that if one considered that there was a growing population of older people, the substantial scope of the challenge faced in caring for people with dementia into the future becomes evident. There are currently not enough healthcare professionals and care facilities locally focusing on this highly specialised discipline within the private and public sectors. In addition, few elder care facilities in South Africa are really able to meet the special needs of those living with more advanced dementia.

While dementia can be challenging to cope with for everyone involved, including caregivers and family members, there is a great deal that can be done to support and stimulate a loved one who has, or is developing, the condition.

According to Oosthuizen, it is important for a person with dementia to be stimulated with appropriate activities, outings and creative endeavours, while such activities should be balanced with adequate rest, according to the individual’s energy levels and capacity. Research indicates that exercise and creative activities such as music, dance and art can be stimulating while reducing certain symptoms, such as anxiety, restlessness and agitation.

In South Africa, where there are inadequate resources devoted to elder and memory care, caring for those with dementia often becomes the responsibility of family and loved ones. Many families are doing their best to take care of their loved one at home while meeting a myriad of other daily responsibilities.

The Livewell Villages in Bryanston and Somerset West provide a comprehensive range of services to those impacted by dementia and their families. Marike Coetzee, occupational therapist at the Somerset West Village, adds that the Livewell offering provides a safe, comfortable and stimulating environment personalised to residents’ requirements.

“To support families and caregivers Livewell has, in addition to its live-in residential options, developed respite care services including day care and holiday care programmes at its Villages. Overnight stays can also be pre-arranged. We also host free weekly support groups for those who care for people with dementia,” she explains.

Corlia Schutte, occupational therapist and activities coordinator at the Bryanston Village, says that she often meets with families who have found that their loved one with dementia requires more and more around-the-clock care as their loved one becomes disorientated and confused.

“Not surprisingly, therefore, dementia can take an emotional toll on loved ones. The aim of respite care, is to provide some relief for carers and support them in having a break from their caring responsibilities, to look after their own health and wellbeing,” she says.

“Families who would like to explore these services are welcome to make an appointment for their loved one to meet with our professional staff. This enables us to structure a holistic programme that will meet the specific needs and personal requirements of their loved one with dementia.”

“We receive a great deal of positive feedback about our day and holiday care services, and some families find that it’s a good way to introduce their loved one to Livewell’s facilities with the view of them becoming live-in residents should they move on to requiring full-time care,” concludes Schutte.

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