Lost HOPE: the impact on Brain health

There are many of negative side effects to losing hope in our lives, and this is especially true for people newly diagnosed with dementia.

It usually takes a lot of time, a lot of courage, and often, a lot of support from others living with dementia, to discover you can live a meaningful purposeful life, after a diagnosis of dementia.

The impact on our brain health on losing hope is significant, and it is not the pathology of dementia causing symptoms of distress, but more often the loss of hope. Prescribed Disengagement® is directly responsible for a loss of hope, for people with dementia and our care partners and families and friends, and also can be the reason for people with dementia taking on learned helplessness.

Loss of hope can cause many things, for example:



Feeling angry

Feeling stressed and agitated

Feeling helpless

Increased risk of suicidal ideation and suicide

Sense of isolation and increased loneliness

Reduced (or lost) sense of purpose and meaning

Increased suffering

If we think about this for a moment, we will see that most of these responses to a loss of hope, are also currently seen by the ‘experts in dementia’ as symptoms due to the pathology of dementia.

They are then labelled as the Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD), or as ‘Unmet needs’, or as ‘Behaviours of distress’, and so on…

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that these are normal human responses to the loss of hope.

Swaffer, 2021

Losing hope brings with is an increased sense of isolation, and of loneliness. People start to doubt whether or not anyone actually cares about them, and start to feel invisible, and like your struggles aren’t known or cared for.

What makes this loss of hope, or hopelessless worse, is that people with dementia are still being advised there is nothing anyone can do, and to go home and prepare for ‘the end’, via community or aged care.

This is instead of being supported – including with proactive disability support – to live their best lives.

New programmes of post diagnositc care, and even new research projects, are not yet willing to tell people up front that the symptoms of dementia are acquired disabilities, and are therefore increasing the loss of hope, as well as reducing the potential for practive support to keep living a meaningful life.

Anyone who has followed me here for a while, will know I have been writing about this topic for over a decade.

The following FACTS have made no difference in terms of anyone, including many research projects and care providers, being willing to embed it into their research or into practice to improve outcomes for people with dementia.

  • Dementia is listed as a major cause of disability and dependence on the WHO website
  • In 2010, the World Health Organisation launched the updated version of the WHO Disability Assessment Schedule (WHODAS 2.0), the internal classification of functioning, disability and health, and at the same time stated very clearly on their website dementia is a condition which is the leading cause of disability and dependence. (it now says a major cause)
  • People with Younger Onset Dementia (YOD) in Australia now receive services via the NDIS (a government funded disability service)
  • Many universities globally now see and support people with dementia as people with acquired disabilities, following the lead of UniSA, who were the first to do this after I was diagnosed
  • It is now recognised by the CRPD Committee and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a condition causing disabilities
  • The International Disability Alliance accepted DAI as an Observer member in 2016, as they also now recognise dementia as condition causing disabilities
  • The WHO re-categorised it under the Mental Health umbrella, as a condition causing cognitive disabilities (removing it from under psychosocial disabilities)
  • The Alz Society UK talk about it as a disability in their updated Living well with dementia publication, although disappointingly only in terms of getting disability funding
  • I could go on…

If we ignored something as important as this in any other health space, everyone would be shocked – and would stand up against it.

Whilst it may be unpleasant accepting another D-word – that dementia causes disabilities is a fact, and being advised this soon after a dx potentially allows many more people to be less distressed about their dx for a shorter period, and then to become more proactive about their diagnosis and to actively seek disability support, even if not straight away.

Following stroke, people are advised of their ‘residual (and other) disabilities’ and almost immediately offered rehab and other support to live with them. I’ve been using stroke as an analogy when campaigning for rehab for 12 years based on my nursing experience. Fact.

Loss of hope impacts brain health. Fact.

Dementia causes disabilities. Fact.

3 thoughts on “Lost HOPE: the impact on Brain health

  1. Pingback: Further information to the DAI Written Statement for CoSP14 - Dementia Alliance International

  2. This is why it is so critical to be around a group of people who are living positively with dementia in support groups.

    Positivity definitely is contagious!


    • Absolutely agree Paulan, which is exactly one of the main reasons eight people diagnosed with dementia started Dementia Alliance International – http://www.joindai.org – who have been hosting peer to peer support groups, even before it launched. DAI was using zoom, long before most of the rest of the world… zoom even call DAI early adopters!


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