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Better health for people living
with dementia

Adjusting to the diagnosis and changing cognition

Everybody’s life changes with time. The life of a person living with dementia is changing more than most.

A diagnosis of dementia is likely to lead to, or uncover, a set of needs, both for the person living with dementia and for their carers, family and friends. They might be sad, frustrated or embarrassed at some of the restrictions that the condition places on them, or they may have less awareness or insight about their changes than those around them. They might have to accept help, and a loss of privacy.

All people living with dementia, and their carers and families, should be offered information and support. The Clinical practice guidelines and principles of care for people with dementia 2016 (1:p42) recommend that the diagnosis of dementia is communicated to the person living with dementia by a medical practitioner, and that information and support be provided for a person living with dementia and their carers and family following the diagnosis of dementia. Information and support can help people adjust to change.

Yet, the support and information needs at the time of diagnosis will vary between people. Support and information are most useful when relevant to the person’s needs at that time, and provided in a way hat they can understand and in an amount they can digest.

The emotional needs will vary too, between people living with dementia, among the circle of carers around a person living with dementia, and over time.

Practice points

Occupational therapists and neuropsychologists:

  • assess a person’s cognition and the impact of cognitive change on their life
  • explain cognitive changes and how they may impact on a person’s life at that time and in the future
  • provide input around decisions regarding activities of daily living and what is appropriate
  • provide input around decisions about their continuation at, or level of involvement in, work.

Dementia advisors and key workers:

  • provide information to make sense of the diagnosis and its impact
  • link people to programs and refer them to other allied health professionals.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers:

  • provide care, support, information and a link to services.

Counsellors, psychologists and social workers:

  • provide emotional and psychological support through times of transition.

Other allied health professionals, such as speech pathologists, occupational therapists and dietitians:

  • bring discipline-specific expertise to assist in adjusting to the changes brought about by cognitive impairment.