A diagnosis of dementia heralds change for the person receiving the diagnosis and for those close to them.
Dementia is a progressive neurodegenerative disease which results in a gradual loss of cognition and abilities; however many skills remain intact.
There are many types of dementia and the rate and course of the progression varies between types and between individuals. Information and support for the person and their close family and/or friends is imperative. So is good health care and a healthy, active lifestyle. Allied health professionals across the many disciplines are well placed to provide many aspects of health care and services to people living with dementia.
This guide aims to encourage all health professionals to consider the role of allied health professionals in the health care of a person living with dementia and their carers.1 It encourages health professionals to think about how allied health professionals can work with a person living with dementia to enable them to live to their full potential. And it informs allied health professionals, who may not have a direct role with aged and dementia health care, of the valuable support they and their colleagues can provide to people living with dementia.
Some people living with dementia have no, or few, other health conditions. Others will have comorbidities, such as vascular disease, diabetes and depression. Then, there are dementia-related health needs that may not be so well recognised, such as changes to cognition, communication, perception, mood and taste. As such, care can be complex and it can be easy to lose sight of what is most important to the person at the centre of the care. Helping the person with dementia to prioritise their needs may be an initial step in the partnership.
The recognition and treatment of health needs can be clouded by lingering stigma about dementia, the myth that dementia is a normal part of ageing and misconceptions about what a person living with dementia can and can’t do and learn. Allied health professionals have an opportunity to provide optimism and help reduce the potential disability that surrounds these negative community attitudes.
In fact, there has been a tremendous growth in knowledge over the past decade about dementia and how it affects the person with it and also those close to them. This has been informed by research and by the growing voice of people with lived experience, and has led to a deeper understanding of how to work with a person living with dementia to enable a happier and more fulfilling life.
There has also been a shift in approach, with the Clinical practice guidelines and principles of care for people with dementia 2016 stating that ‘people with dementia should not be excluded from any health care services because of their diagnosis, whatever their age’ (1:p17).
This shift is reflected in increasing evidence of what allied health professionals have to contribute in areas that were not always included in dementia health care, such as rehabilitation (2), behaviour management (3) and palliative care (1:p90). And an increasing recognition of the value of an inter-professional healthcare team approach: where a group of health professionals collaborate to frame a common understanding and develop an integrated approach to dementia health care (4).
This guide draws from that growth in knowledge, and describes the many ways in which allied health professionals can use this information to work together and provide interventions for people living with dementia.2
This guide is about what allied health professionals can do, and in many instances, are already doing.3
We acknowledge that the availability of allied health professionals, and of those with experience in dementia health care, is not consistent across Australia. We also acknowledge that there can be some overlap between some of the allied health disciplines. There is a companion to this document for people living with dementia and their carers: Allied health professionals and you: A guide for people living with dementia and their carers. It provides information about allied health professionals and how they can contribute to the health care of a person living with dementia.
- In this publication, the term ‘carers’ refers to people who are not paid to provide care. Carers in receipt of the Australian Government carer payment or carer allowance are included in this publication.
- In addition to the allied health disciplines, this publication includes dementia advisors (and key workers), because many of them are allied health professionals. They may work in a dementia-specific service, such as a Dementia Advisory Service, or may be a sole worker attached to a government health service or a non-government provider. In addition to their discipline knowledge, they have usually completed further training and/or have considerable experience working with people living with dementia. They are not available in all states and territories.
- Doctors and nurses also provide medical and health services to people living with dementia. However they are not the focus of this publication.
The National Dementia Helpline is an Australian Government funded initiative.