'Still Alice' highlights dementia impact on younger person

The success of Oscar-nominated movie Still Alice and its focus on younger onset dementia has been welcomed by A/Prof Colm Cunningham, Director of HammondCare’s Dementia Centre.

The success of Oscar-nominated movie Still Alice and its focus on younger onset dementia has been welcomed by A/Prof Colm Cunningham, Director of HammondCare’s Dementia Centre.

Actress Julianne Moore has won a Gold Globe and been nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Alice Howland, a 50-year-old cognitive psychology professor and a world-renowned linguistics expert who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.HammondCare is internationally regarded as a leading provider of dementia services, including for younger people, and opened Australia’s first residential home for people with dementia aged under 65 and as young as 35.

The fictional story is based on Lisa Genova’s 2009 novel of the same name which was meticulously researched through interviews with many people in the early stages of younger onset dementia.

Dementia still often misunderstood

A/Prof Cunningham said that despite its prevalence, dementia was still often misunderstood and Julianne Moore’s portrayal will help highlight the impact on a younger person. And while the vast majority of people with dementia are much older, the number of those aged under 65 with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in Australia is estimated to be more than 25,000.

“As is the case for Alice in the movie, younger people with dementia often face the complexities of family life and relationships of someone in their 50s, along with managing work and maintaining financial commitments, coupled with the immense challenges posed by the condition.

“The impairments the person experience as dementia develops, the challenges of receiving an accurate diagnosis and the impact on their loved ones who may be wondering what is happening, can be devastating.”

Severe symptoms may occur sooner

A/Prof Cunningham said dementia in younger people tended to be harder to diagnose in the first place because it is unexpected. It also advances more quickly than it might in an older person and more severe symptoms may occur sooner. And the care needed by a person in this situation can be quite different as they are still otherwise healthy, mobile and active.

“HammondCare has recently completed a major review of our approach to supporting people with younger onset dementia, based on our own learning through establishing a residential service, our work in the community and drawing on the latest research evidence.

“Myself and HammondCare’s General Manager of Residential Care, Angela Raguz, recently spoke at a major younger onset dementia conference in Oxford, England. Significantly, younger people with dementia in the UK were seeking the same supports as younger people here in Australia - support and security to stay in meaningful work, flexible support in the community and respite and residential services options that engage with the individual, their interests and needs.”

Raised awareness beneficial

A/Prof Cunningham said that while it might be difficult for younger people with dementia and their families to see a film that attempted to depict what they were living through, there was no doubt the awareness being created would be beneficial.

“I hope the movie does focuses attention on the particular needs of younger people with dementia. This will help us to build on younger dementia work happening in Australia and in particular to address the need for specialist residential options for people with specific types of younger onset dementia ”

Still Alice is opening in many Australian cinemas from late January.

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