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How planning ahead can help those living with dementia stay at home longer

Informal carers, such as a partner or child, play a vital role in allowing people living with dementia to live at home for longer.

This is branded content for Dementia Support Australia.

A diagnosis of dementia can be a confronting moment.

Along with the shock comes a myriad of questions and worries about what's ahead, for both the person affected and family members - often a partner or child - who will take on the role of carer.

Some of the biggest concerns are the questions of how long the person with dementia will be able to stay living at home, fears of eventually needing to go into residential care, and the pressure it will place on relationships.

It's these worries that a unique new program is on a mission to help impacted families more easily address and then to plan more effectively for their future.

Funded by the Australian Government, Staying at Home is a free carer wellbeing and respite program that provides carers with advice and practical strategies on how to support a person living with dementia to remain in their own home for as long as possible. Concurrently support for the person living with dementia is provided focused on engagement activities.

Launching in July and set to roll out nationally over the next 12 months, it's being run by Dementia Support Australia, a service led by innovative Australian aged care leader HammondCare.

A key feature of Staying at Home is that it's held in a respite residence and involves overnight stays for the person living with dementia and their carers together while they both also participate in educational and wellbeing sessions.

Run over three days, the program's residential element is designed to introduce the concept of respite, and the valuable role it can play in helping people living with dementia stay in their home for longer by alleviating the pressure for carers.

In Australia, around 70 per cent of people living with dementia live at home, mostly with an informal carer such as a spouse or partner, or a child, says Marie Alford, Head of Dementia Professional Services at HammondCare's Dementia Centre.

"The role of these carers in supporting the person with dementia and allowing them to stay in their home is so important, but we know that if the carer doesn't get the appropriate support and respite it can lead to adverse outcomes for both themselves and the person they're supporting," she said.

"That might mean early entry into residential care or some sort of crisis that means decisions are made that nobody has had time to think about.

"Respite can sometimes be a scary thing for the carer and the person living with dementia, and even though we have some really good respite options in Australia people often don't take them up until the crisis hits. That's what we're trying to avoid by demystifying respite care."

Making better decisions

As well as introducing the concept of respite, the Staying at Home program gives carers and the person living with dementia the opportunity to have their questions answered by experts in the field and equip them with the knowledge to make the best decisions for the future.

It also helps to build important peer support through the opportunity to meet others taking part in the program.

"What we know is that the earlier families impacted by dementia start engaging and planning, the better it is for both carers and the person living with dementia," Ms Alford said.

"By being pro-active, undertaking these programs at an early stage people can plan well for the future. With a service like respite, it might not be something they need straight away but it means they'll know what's available and be ready if the situation changes.

"It's about avoiding those crisis decision-making moments where you lose the ability to have more choice and time to make those often really hard decisions."

Getting the most out of life

For people diagnosed with dementia, continuing to do the activities they love means they can have a better quality of life for longer, and it's one of the challenges the Staying at Home program also seeks to assist with.

"What can happen for a lot of people with dementia is that they remove themselves from the things they like doing because they recognise that their cognition is changing or their behaviour is changing and that's quite stressful," Ms Alford said.

"What we know is that the more engaged people with dementia are, the healthier they are for longer, so we help them identify things that are purposeful for them. There are always ways to modify activities so they can stay engaged. They don't need to withdraw from life and neither does the carer."

planning ahead can help those living with dementia stay at home longer.

The first Staying at Home program will run July 26 to July 28 at HammondCare's Hart Cottage, Horsley, NSW with additional programs in August. If you're interested in knowing more or attending a Stay at Home program visit the Dementia Support Australia website or call 1800 699 799.

This is branded content for Dementia Support Australia.