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Expert advices care givers to give Dementia patients dignity

“For me, it’s a walk with dementia because I walk with families throughout their dementia journey."

Dementia care training facilitator Denise Fredericks emphasised the importance of treating dementia patients with dignity and courtesy, however advanced their illness is.

Fredericks was addressing members of the U3A (University of the Third Age) during the monthly meeting on May 14.

She said people with dementia need reassurance and support because they face challenges to how they remember, think, communicate and do every chores, adding it’s important that their carers should do everything to help them retain their sense of identity and self-worth.

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Members of U3A Benoni.

In her presentation, she described dementia as an umbrella term for the symptoms of a group of more than 100 conditions that impair behaviour and thinking.

Fredericks cited Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinsons, Vascular dementia, Fronto-temporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies as the most common forms of the illness.

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She said the possible causes include physical, emotional (stress, depression) and environmental (nutrition, cigarette smoke) factors, adding the symptoms include communication (decoding messages), memory loss and cognitive functions like planning their day and behavioural changes.

While around five million people were said to be living with dementia in Africa in 2015, Fredericks said proper research hasn’t been done in SA, especially in black communities where people suffering from the illness are often labelled as mad or witches.

Denise Fredericks is an experienced dementia carer.

Fredericks’ journey with dementia started when both her in-laws were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and she personally cared for them for two years.

“My father-in-law was diagnosed three years after my mother-in-law. I felt I wanted to be there for them so I cared for them for two years at home. But this illness boggled my mind and I wanted to know more,” she said.

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She then decided to further her studies to learn more about this debilitating disease. She completed a BA in Community Development at UNISA, as well as several courses including understanding dementia and cognitive behavioural therapy.

The organisation holds its meetings every second Tuesday of every month.

Her career began in 2009 as an online counsellor and manager for MySupport, run by Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals, an online website for carers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, for 10 years.

She was also a coordinator in Pretoria, family counsellor and carer training facilitator for Alzheimer’s SA from 2010 to 2018.

“For me, it’s a walk with dementia because I walk with families throughout their dementia journey – some for more than 10 years,” she said.

The next U3A meeting is on June 11.

• The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a non-profit international organisation for ‘third agers’ – retired people or senior citizens.

For more information on the Benoni branch, which is looking for new members, contact Colleen Russell on 084 652 8415 or colleenrussell34@gmail.com.

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