A New Dementia Support Service for the Hawkesbury, with Dr Ravi

Hey, remember Dr Ravi?

We had lunch at Patiala House in Richmond recently and I nearly died of delicious, while he told me all about how his dementia support network is coming along.

As someone who regularly seeks to explore the perspectives of our diverse community, I always take time to listen to the unique challenges faced by Hawkesbury seniors. Without giving away anyone’s secrets, I can say in general that their frustrations almost always relate to one or more of the following categories: health, financial stress, mobility, access, social isolation and health services.

We all have older people in our lives, and nobody wants to see them experience barriers to the most basic levels of care and support. You may know someone who lives with dementia. While there is such a thing as “younger onset dementia” which refers to people under 65, we generally understand dementia to be an older person’s disease. That of course comes along with other health or mental health issues that may accompany older age.

Anyone with daily lived experience of supporting a loved one with dementia knows that the hardest days are beyond exhausting, and there is little to no respite available to so many people in our neighbourhood who could use a break.

After well over a year of organisation between key players and the community, momentum is gathering for Hawkesbury locals in need of dementia support.

Dr Ravindra Sahasrabuddhe, known locally as “Dr Ravi”, is leading the way on the creation of a network and a centralised access point where locals can more easily reach out and find the help they need.

“We’ve heard from doctors, specialists and Dementia Advisory Services. We’ve also heard from carers about what they go through. I’ve been trying to include the services in the area. We’ve worked with both government agencies and private ones as well, and they’re happy to co-operate. Looking forward, there’s going to be a growing need, because of the aging population.”

In late October, the dementia services working group met in Richmond with guests from Hawkesbury City Council and the wider community to share stories and exchange ideas on how to improve ease of access to services. In attendance was Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett, who later reflected on the event.

“It was very heartening to hear workers from the dementia sector speaking with such compassion and commitment about the importance of ensuring people are fully aware of the various services they can access. We know many people are overwhelmed by the process of accessing multiple points of service. Dr Ravi is aiming to make this easier. It is always wonderful to meet with people working hard to make the lives of those with dementia easier and more fulfilling. Networking events such as this enable various participants in the sector to meet each other and exchange ideas and experiences. Clr Reynolds and I enjoyed meeting such people and gaining a broader understanding of the challenges and advancements in this area.”

Dr Ravi says, “Going forward, we need to take a step back. We know that currently there are over half a million people in Australia who live with dementia. It’s going to go to a million by 2050. Currently in the budget, they’re spending 15 billion, and it’s expected to rise to 38 billion by 2050. Every day, 250 people are diagnosed with dementia. Every day!”

Dr Ravi has introduced the concept of locals becoming a “Dementia Friend”, which he says is a key part of educating the community.

“Sometimes people remain in denial. We can all be forgetful sometimes; we can’t find our keys, or we can’t remember if we took our tablet. It happens incrementally. Dementia affects various parts of the brain, so you lose different elements of intellect. Memory is one of the earliest ones, then you can lose executive function, or experience behavioural disturbances. You can also have delusions, depending on what part of the brain is affected. There are five or six different dimensions to it. In the very early stage, people can try some medication. However, what doctors are saying now is that we should slow the progress of dementia with social connectivity. That’s the most important thing. Today, everyone may have a thousand friends on Facebook, but when was the last time they actually saw anybody? People think, ‘Oh, I can keep my brain active by doing puzzles,’ but it is not as good as actually seeing people.”

With a centralised local service bringing people in touch with that social connectivity, the Hawkesbury will soon find that support for locals and their loved ones living with dementia at all stages.

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