Graeme Samuel's letter to the Editor - Financial Review

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Note: The below letter to the Editor was published in the Financial Review, Wednesday 17 June 2015.

I am writing to you about an article printed in your paper on 11 June 2015 ‘Teams to deal with feral patients’ which made derogatory references to people experiencing dementia.
Dementia is a terminal illness that affects over 342,000 Australians. It is the second leading cause of death in Australia behind heart disease.  Someone living with dementia may have been experiencing symptoms for up to 10 years before they receive the diagnosis, and there are over 25,000 living with younger onset dementia.
Carers and people living with dementia tell us that one of the most devastating things associated with a diagnosis is the loss of social interaction.  People do not know how to interact with them, they don’t know what to say, and they do not want to be around them.
How the community responds to someone with dementia has a direct impact on their experience of the disease.  Whether it is in the community or in aged care, people with dementia can be discriminated against, made to feel inadequate, powerless, lost and confused.  The emotions swirling around them can be disconcerting, even frightening.  It is how we respond that can escalate issues or make it easier for people to stay connected to others.
The article you published focused on a program that has been developed to better address the needs of the small minority of those with dementia that face significant difficulty coping with the symptoms and fitting into various forms of care.  Most people would recognise that such a program is a benefit to people with dementia, their carers and the aged care services struggling to provide appropriate services.
Alzheimer’s Australia works to raise awareness of dementia in the community and deliver programs which help people living with dementia and their carers to live as full lives as possible in their homes and communities. 
It is very disappointing when media outlets and others in the community propagate the view that a large number of people with dementia are ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’.
People with dementia are your parents, your grandparents, your brother or sister, your beloved partner.  They may even be you.
I want to live in a community that cares about people with dementia, not one that berates and denigrates them if their behaviour is not what we expect.

We would do better to encourage more people in the community to be aware of the facts about dementia and communicate this accurately.

- Graeme Samuel AC, National President, Dementia Australia