Listen: Lois Haultain in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty
Dementia robs memory, language and life skills. It changes relationships and it changes people. But does it take away faith and your relationship with God?
Can you hold on to faith when all else fades?
An innovative Christian resource is changing the way we think about spiritual wellbeing for people living with dementia. ‘Faith for life: Biblical resources for people with dementia’ is a pioneering new resource designed to help people living with dementia continue in their Christian faith.
HammondCare pastoral care coordinator, Lois Haultain, is very aware of the ongoing faith needs of people with dementia and has found many ways people with dementia are able to stay close to God.
Unlocking the door on faith
The research-based ‘Faith for life’ resource is from HammondCare and the Bible Society. It is the first of its kind in Australia. It was developed through extensive and ongoing consultation with families, carers and people living with dementia.
Lois was involved in the extensive trials of the material and is very happy with the resources. “It enables people with dementia to in a sense unlock the door on their faith.” she says
Consultation on the resources included feedback on content, format and even the materials used to produce the resources. The ‘Faith for life’ materials include A4 and A5 cards, devotional books and spiral-bound desktop devotions.
Well known Bible verses and hymns
The final products feature captivating imagery and themed devotional material including Bible verses, prayers, lines from familiar hymns and in some cases, use of related objects.
The design is readily accessible for people with dementia with features such as good contrast, low glare, clear layout and familiar content. From a spiritual perspective, the resources can be used by anyone, regardless of Bible knowledge or faith experience. Further products including customisations and technology enhancements are planned for 2018-2019.
Opening up the healing beauty of the Bible
One of the experts involved in producing ‘Faith for life’ was Professor John Swinton, author of the book ‘Dementia: Living in the memories of God’. He is a leading thinker in the realm of ‘disability theology’.
“The Bible is a place where we encounter new ways of thinking about ourselves, the world and God. It helps us discover hope and new possibilities in situations where both can seem hard to find,” Professor Swinton said.
“The ‘Faith for life’ materials open up the healing beauty of the Bible in ways that enable people with dementia and those offering care and support, to hold on to God even when the memory of God can seem elusive and difficult. “This is an important resource for an important group of people,” he said.
How common is dementia?
Dementia is the leading cause of disability among Australians over 65 and the second leading cause of death in Australia. In 2016, the direct costs alone of dementia were close to $9 billion in Australia, with a predicted increase to $12 billion by 2025.
More than 400,000 Australians are currently living with dementia. These figures have been revised upward from past projections. More accurate projections of dementia rates out to 2030 are critical to enable government policy makers and community services to better plan for the impact of cognitive decline in the future.
Infographic on Dementia in Australia from the report ‘Cognitive ageing and decline: Insights from recent research’
Report on Ageing Australia
A major report released last month ‘Cognitive ageing and decline: Insights from recent research’ looked at the rising number of Australians with dementia. It also considered lifestyle risk factors for dementia. The report also gathered information on the increasing cost to families, carers, and the economy.
The report was led by Professor Kaarin Anstey, CEPAR Chief Investigator and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at NeuRA. Professor Anstey says the report highlights the prevalence of dementia in Australia, which doubles every five years between ages 70 and 84, and how our ageing population trends will result in greater numbers of people with dementia.
Impact is not just on the patient
“Australia’s ageing population is leading to an increasing number of Australians with the disease which will further impact individuals, society and the economy over the next decade,” says Prof Anstey.
The impact of dementia goes far beyond individual health. The report noted there are direct, indirect and intangible costs of dementia for the wider society and significant indirect costs to Australia’s economy. For example, dementia patients and those who care for them often have to withdraw from the workforce.
For someone with moderate dementia, the care hours are 17 per week on average, while severe cases involve hours similar to a full-time job. In 2016, the cost of foregone work hours was estimated to be $5.5billion.
Financial frailty a new issue for ageing populations
Recent evidence to the Royal Commission on banking shows that many people are getting bad advice from banks and other financial institutions. The CEPAR report also sounds a warning for the risks older people can encounter when making financial decisions. According to the report, an under-researched area of cognitive ageing is financial frailty. CEPAR Director, Scientia Professor John Piggott, said what is clear from the 2018 CEPAR report is that those with cognitive impairment are more susceptible to poor financial decision-making.
“Our retirement income system is very complex and requires a lot of active decisions. We are only beginning to think about how population ageing will affect the decision-making ability of older cohorts and what insights psychology and behavioural finance can bring,” said Prof Piggott.
More research needed
Commenting on the outcomes of the report, Professor Anstey said further investment into ageing research is needed to identify more risk factors, adapt the workplace for older workers, and develop strategies to guide financial decision-making in older age.
“We need to develop better diagnostic tests and assessments, increase community education to ensure risk factors attributed to dementia are better managed, and support carers to reduce carer distress in the broader community,” Prof Anstey said.
New technology for people living alone
The University of NSW faculties of Medicine and Engineering are investing seed funding for some new technology to tackle disease. One of the projects is a new monitoring technology to help people with early dementia live safely at home for longer is one of the projects being developed by Professor Branko Celler, from the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.
“More than 410,000 people in Australia have dementia, with about 70,000 living alone,” says Professor Celler. “What we want to create is a low-cost, adaptable at-home technology device that can prolong the period of time someone with dementia can continue living independently.”
A virtual assistant could help
Working with a clinical care team, a virtual assistant system will be set up in the patient’s home with miniature speakers in each room that talk and instruct the person on daily and weekly tasks.
“It will be like Google Assistant and use minimal kit or gear in the home, with a visual display to help reinforce the audio-messages. The patient will also wear a fall detection monitor that will alert the care team to a fall, a drop in energy levels or sleep patterns,” says Professor Celler. “A metric we are developing will then guide healthcare providers on when it is no longer safe to stay at home.”
Professor Celler is currently working with community nurses and Alzheimer’s clinicians to identify existing and new technology that can be used in a clinical trial setting. “At-home tele monitoring is crucial for reducing expenditure on medical services, hospital admissions and the burden on the health system,” he says.
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