Dementia Action Week 2020

23 September, 2020

The Hon. J.S. LEE (15:43): Today, I rise to speak about Dementia Action Week, which is held this week, from Monday 21 September until Sunday 27 September. It is an important initiative of Dementia Australia. Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease. It affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with a person's normal social and working life.

Close to half a million Australians currently live with dementia and sadly that number is expected to double in the next 25 years. Many Australians will start experiencing the impact of dementia amongst their own family and friends in the coming years.

It was reported by SBS news this week that culturally diverse Australians living with dementia are facing extra challenges. The number of Australians living with dementia from non-English-speaking backgrounds is estimated to be around one in eight or as high as one in six in Victoria. People living with dementia experience changes in how they experience the world and often in how other people relate to them.

My late grandmother was affected by dementia and therefore I have witnessed firsthand the vulnerability of someone who had dementia, and it is a topic close to my heart. My Por Por (that is what we called my grandma) was an adorable, loving grandmother. When she was in her 80s we started to notice her forgetfulness and very often she got her children mixed up with her grandchildren.

One time on a trip to Malaysia we visited Por Por and showed her a photo we had taken of her. My grandmother held the photo in her hands for a long time and she looked at it closely for a while and asked us, 'Who is that old lady in the photo?' We said, 'That's you, Por Por.' She turned around and said, 'No way. That can't be me. I am much younger and much more beautiful than that.'

Of course, instead of arguing with her, we agreed with her. Our family members changed the topic immediately and talked about the things that my grandmother wanted to talk about. Even though we may have heard her telling us the same story over 100 times, it was a way to support our grandmother through those difficult days and years until she passed away peacefully at the wonderful age of 98 years old.

I concur with the research findings by Dementia Australia that people living with dementia can continue to live active and rich lives many years after diagnosis. This was the case for my grandmother. According to the survey released by Dementia Australia this week, it is alarming that three in four Australians living with dementia said people do not keep in touch like they used to, and those with non-English-speaking backgrounds are facing additional challenges around access to information and services.

Some of the difficulties for multicultural communities include the lack of understanding of the disease and the support services that are available. Some languages do not even have a word for dementia. Additionally, many people from a CALD background revert to their language of origin or mother tongue as their dementia progresses, and this can leave them to be misunderstood by carers and even their own families.

I am pleased to inform honourable members that Dementia Australia has fact sheets and resources available on their website in 43 languages to assist CALD community members to understand the disease. I am grateful and thank Dementia Australia for providing wonderful support services that are linguistically and culturally sensitive to address the unique needs of people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds living with dementia.

The recent survey also revealed that almost two in three respondents say people that they know have been avoiding or excluding them. So in this Dementia Action Week, I ask our community and our world to continue to be open to people living with dementia, with the theme of action week being 'A little support makes a lot of difference'.