Get a second opinion and trust to your instincts. That’s the message from Maria Giacomantonio ahead of September’s Dementia Awareness Month.
Maria is a full-time carer for her husband of 52 years, Dominic, 82, who is living with Lewy body disease, one of the most common causes of dementia among older people.
Maria and her two adult sons struggled without a diagnosis for Dominic’s failing memory and decreasing independence for around five years.
Following a stroke and a bout of pneumonia, Dominic’s issues were put down to “old age” by a GP and other health professionals.
“One day we were out driving and he stopped only 100 metres from our house and said ‘where are we?’ That was really frightening,” Maria said.
The family insisted on further tests and a neurologist confirmed their worst fears.
“It was very hard (to accept). Dominic has always been a very active man who did everything for everybody. Looking back, his mind may have started deteriorating after he retired at 71. But because he was so active we didn’t notice until his physical movements started to be affected.”
Following the confirmation of dementia, Maria sought help from non-profit organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes’ (VMCH) Carer Support Program. She says attending carer support events has helped her in her caring role.
“They (VMCH) give us all the support, understand and knowledge we need. And it’s great because you speak to other people in similar situations.”
Maria encouraged those who suspected they or their loved one might have dementia to get help.
“It’s (a diagnosis) so important because I suffered probably for five years with not knowing he did have a medical problem and nobody picked it up. I was giving myself a hard time because I kept thinking ‘you’re imagining it’, my own health was suffering, and I kept getting frustrated (with Dominic).”
Elizabeth Baxter from VMCH’s Dementia and Cognition Guided Pathway Service said Maria’s message was important.
“The average time between (dementia) symptoms to diagnosis is currently three years; this is an often-discussed topic due to the rapid progression of many types of dementia. It is vital that we educate the broader community, GPs and ‘first point of contacts’ for individuals seeking support or investigation to reduce the length of time in receiving a diagnosis. This can save families a lot of heartache and reduce the fear and confusion for those living with dementia.”
Elizabeth said VMCH worked closely with Cabrini Community Cognition and Dementia Service, offering specialist dementia clinical support, diagnosis and care planning.
VMCH is holding a free morning tea and information session for people living with dementia and their carers, including Boroondara residents, during Dementia Awareness Month. September 14, 10am to 12pm, 355 Stud Rd, Wantirna South. Info: 1300 971 720.