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Better Understanding Dementia by Kathryn Briant

21 November 2019

Did you know that while dementia is most commonly associated with ageing, it is not considered to be a normal part of the ageing process? Only around 10% of those aged over 65 years have a type of dementia. But of all the types of dementia, about 90% of these occur in people over the age of 65 years. The longer we live, the greater the increase in dementia as a proportion of the population. As such, our health care systems need to be prepared for responding to an increased need for caring for people diagnosed with dementia.

The Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre at the University of Tasmania offer a number of excellent MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). If you aren’t familiar with MOOCs – they are offered by a range of universities around the world – they are free and open to anyone.

One of our members recommended the ‘Understanding Dementia’ course, and not knowing a great deal about dementia, I thought it would be a useful course to add to my training calendar for this year.

The course is well-structured, with three main sections:

  • The Brain – a study of the changes in the brain that can lead to dementia
  • The Disease – symptoms of dementia and changes that occur in function
  • The Person – how can we better shape health care to enhance the quality of life for people with dementia?

I found the content very engaging and the complex science well explained at a level that could be easily understood by most people. While the course does take some time to complete, the online format means you have the flexibility to watch the lectures whenever it suits you. The course runs for around seven weeks in total.

A few key things I learnt from the ‘Understanding Dementia’ course are:

  • Dementia affects more than just memory – as dementia progresses, it can affect all sorts of connections in the brain. This can impact memory but also many other functions of our bodies.
  • A diagnosis of dementia is a terminal diagnosis. While there are a range of treatments for symptom management, and perhaps delaying onset of more severe symptoms with early diagnosis, there is no currently no cure for dementia. Research continues!
  • It is often the decline in swallowing reflex that causes serious complications and can lead to death in end-stage dementia (eg. aspiration pneumonia).
  • There is evidence to suggest that the physical environment can have a very positive impact on those with dementia, especially in the later stages of the disease. This is an important factor to consider in our range of care settings.

I would highly recommend this course for anyone who wants to learn more about dementia, from either a personal or professional level, or both! The quality of this course suggests that the other MOOCs on dementia offered by the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre would also be of great value. ‘Understanding Dementia’ will run again from 18 February 2020.

Click here to find out more about ‘Understanding Dementia’ and other courses offered by the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre.

Kathryn Briant

Policy Officer HCCA

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