It’s Dementia Awareness Month. Lucy O’Flaherty wrote this article ...
He walks into the lounge to see her sitting comfortably, pen in one hand and suduko in the other, glasses on the rim of her nose and brow furrowed deep in thought. With a now cold cup of coffee perched on top of a pile of books on the coffee table next to her, he smiles as he watches her physical stillness but her mental agility.
She once would have heard him enter the room and would have leapt to her feet with arms out ready to warmly embrace and welcome him. Now she is a little startled and awkward as it takes a moment for her to remember who he is.
The conversation starts with him enquiring as to her thoughts on trimming the trees outside the window, then the conversation is guided to other topics as he eases himself into the armchair and they share their views and thoughts on everything from the garden to politics and literature. This is a strategy put into place once a week to provide some respite for her husband who is now her full time carer.
Forgetfulness and loss of vision or hearing is something we all understand and accept as part of the ageing process. We can use aids to hear, glasses to see and write lists to remember some things. We often recognise these changes as families and friends, and put things into place to help address these losses. But when that help isn’t enough and when it goes beyond lists and prompts, when cognitive impairment or dementia are suspected, we as a community don’t currently have the aids to help.
Imagine a place where we can recreate the scene of a woman sitting with a cup of coffee, books and suduko. Where a trained carer can build a relationship with her and ask advice about the gardening, engage in conversation about politics or literature. In the current dementia care model this is challenging, not because of a lack of will, but the physical environments limit how we can modify spaces to be more home like.
Korongee, the Australian first village for people living with dementia gives us, as Tasmanians, the opportunity to get back to basics, to show how, with all the technology in the world and new inventions, the smaller homes with a more personal and familiar feel can provide the opportunity for people to continue living their lives as they would have in their own homes. No set meal times or routine, unless that’s what people were used to.
Homes treated as home and not workplaces. Shops and a beauty salon where skin integrity and nail care can be done as a pampering experience and not clinical intervention. We definitely need highly skilled staff as well as up-to-date equipment and technology, but sometimes it’s the simple things that make all the difference.
An hour or two has passed and they’ve shared stories and views on Voltaire and the upcoming election. They’ve debated the opportunities they’ve had in life, like her not being able to go to university when she was young, but then going on to do a degree in her forties.
As they both finish their cup of coffee, her husband appears at the doorway refreshed and feeling able to return to his role as her carer.
Caring for people living with dementia at home is demanding for families and they should be applauded for everything they do. If that time comes when staying at home is no longer an option, we as a community need to make sure the very best next thing to home is possible and available to all our ageing.
Through developing Korongee, we hope this will incite change across the nation and become the first of many to fill this obvious gap in the way we care for our ageing.