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Q&A with Prof Charles Scerri and Ms Anne Cuschieri

Welcome to our interview with Prof Charles Scerri and Ms Anne Cuschieri.

Thank you both of you for giving us your time.  Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and your involvement with the Mata Dementia Society?

CS: Being one of the co-founders of the Malta Dementia Society, I have been involved with its workings since its inception back in September of 2004. At the time, dementia awareness among the Maltese society in general was lacking and no services aimed at supporting these individuals and those who care for them were running. The main objectives of the Society were therefore centred on increasing awareness about dementia and advocating for better service provision with the aim of enhancing the quality of life of these individuals. On the personal side, I am an academic holding a professorial position at the University of Malta. I have studied and researched this topic for over 25 years and got my doctoral degree from the University of Dundee, United Kingdom.

AC: I formed part of the very first committee as my mother had dementia at the time and there was no other help in Malta so I wanted to be part of this from the start. I eventually stepped back as my parents’ needs grew but my husband and I organised several New Year’s Eve parties to raise money for the MDS. In fact, at that time, people had never heard of MDS and barely new anything about dementia. It was sort of taboo at the time to talk about dementia.

The Malta Dementia Society works very hard with both persons with dementia as well as their close relatives. What services are available and where can people contact you to avail themselves of these services?

Apart from advocating for an increase in dementia awareness, the Malta Dementia Society provides a number of services that are tailor-made for individuals living with dementia and their informal caregivers. These include two support groups, one for individuals living with dementia and the other for relatives. Studies indicate that the quality of life of informal caregivers gets better when they meet and share their experiences. Both services are run by qualified psychotherapists. Therapeutic-intervention programmes include DancingtoDementia (a music/dance-therapy programme intended to increase physical activity) and Kuluri u Tifkiriet (an art-based therapy programme intended to enhance cognitive abilities). The Malta Dementia Society also offers the possibility of meeting a psychotherapy professional to support relatives manage the challenges that dementia presents, physiotherapy and speech-language therapy. We also offer legal advice, especially on issues like guardianship. The Society can be contacted on its website (www.maltadementiasociety.org.mt), its Facebook page and on telephone number: 99451625

 

The Malta Dementia Society can be contacted on its website (www.maltadementiasociety.org.mt), its Facebook page and on telephone number: 99451625

 

To many people, dementia means that a person starts to forget; with many even dismissing it as a natural part of ageing. 

While we know that forgetfulness IS a common sign of ageing (as well as of other things including significant levels of stress), coming face to face with a dementia diagnosis is often a terrifying prospect to people. 
Are there things which people can take or do which can improve their quality of life and delay deterioration?


Dementia is not all about forgetting, neither is forgetting a unique symptom for dementia.

People forget for a number of reasons. Forgetting is also part of how our brain works. We all forget and yes, it can get worse as we grow older. Having said that, it is always advisable to seek professional support if you suspect abnormal forgetting as there are other situations, besides dementia, that can cause forgetting including side-effects of drugs, abnormal thyroid function and lack of specific vitamins in our diet, just to mention a few.

There are a number of modifiable risk factors as well that can put us at risk of developing dementia later on in life including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, hearing loss and lack of physical and mental activity.

Studies suggest that in people who have dementia, high quality management and care which includes healthy eating may slow down disease progression.

Family members are often the primary caregivers, and they take on so much responsibility and so many duties to ensure that their loved one is safe and well.

Nevertheless, this often comes at a high price, as they expect themselves to provide this care while continuing with their responsibilities towards the rest of their family, their professional lives and other commitments.  What can they do to help themselves cope?

The key to all of this is knowledge and support seeking. It is very important that caregivers find the time to inform themselves of how dementia will affect them and their loved ones. There is a lot of good information on the internet, especially information coming from associations and societies working in the filed like the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) and the Alzheimer Society (www.alzheimers.org.uk).  They can also contact the Malta Dementia Society. I would also advise them to check and complete the iSupport programme. This is an extensive online training programme developed by the World Health Organisation that provides practical knowledge on different aspects of dementia management and care via a number of modules. Another important element is to seek support as there are a number of support services intended to help both individuals living with dementia and their caregivers. Again, it would be best to contact the Malta Dementia Society for guidance.

IDEA Care is offering community-based services to support people who wish to continue living in their own homes following a dementia diagnosis. 

Can a person’s home be made safer, and what are a few things that family members can look out for in terms of health and safety?

Safety is paramount in managing and caring for someone living with dementia. It is not unusual for these individuals to sometimes forget to switch off the oven or turn the lights off, just to give two examples.

There are a number of tips for these individuals to keep safe at home. These include having appliances with automatic shut-off devices, having carbon monoxide detectors to detect gas leakages, having sensor lights that ensure rooms and corridors are well lit, removing rugs and carpets to decrease the risk of falls, removing loose cables and extra furniture, having grab rails fitted on the stairs and bathroom, securing detergents, sharp objects and medications in locked cabinets. These are just a few tips that can be used to enhance safety.

Where can our clients read more about the excellent services provided by the Malta Dementia Society, and where can they contact you should they have any questions?

The Malta Dementia Society can be contacted through its website www.maltadementiasociety.org.mt, it’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/119252628152310, by email on info@maltadementiasociety.org.mt; or by phone 99451625

Is there any message in particular you would like to get through to family members of persons with dementia who may just have been diagnosed recently?

I would advise caregivers to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally. It’s important to ask for help and support when they need it, spend some time with friends, enjoy their hobbies and join a support group. It will surely be of great benefit to their wellbeing.

They should also contact the Malta Dementia Society to find out what services there are and benefit from them before the situation becomes too difficult to handle.

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