The Shoalhaven region, south of Sydney, has become an example of how communities can become more inclusive.
From Berry to Nowra, the Shoalhaven community has worked hard to become dementia-friendly. Workshops, door-to-door visits, stories on social media, in the local press and on radio, and pop-up stalls at markets have raised awareness and understanding to reduce stigma about dementia.
This work has been undertaken by HammondCare Nowra, a host of community members and businesses, and supported by a Dementia Australia grant as part of the Dementia-Friendly Communities program.
And for one couple, Leasa and David, the results have been clear to see.
When he was 59, David was diagnosed with dementia. The couple were living in Sydney and they knew David‘s condition would deteriorate and living in the city would eventually leave David housebound. Leasa realised that support for both of them would eventually become important and in 2015 they moved to Berry, close to Leasa’s family.
“And it was the best thing we’ve ever done,” Leasa says.
David is now 65, and while his condition has gradually deteriorated, Leasa has created a safety net around him.
Being able to safely go and do the shopping and run errands means he is still able to maintain his independence. If David is in town and becomes frightened or confused for any reason, he knows to go to the chemist where staff know to ring Leasa or even drive David home. Leasa and David call the chemist his, “safe space”.
At the IGA, staff can recognise if David is having a bad day. If he is, they help him with his shopping and with payment. There’s also support at David’s pub, the staff help him with payment and know he only has two beers, unless with friends, and send him home.
“And the Berry Men’s Shed has been amazing,” says Leasa.
“Every time he goes, Phil who is the overall manager of the shed
, introduces himself every morning. ‘Hello David, my name is Phil.’ They know that routine is important.”
David spends four hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Steve his support worker. Most days they go to the Men’s Shed. David has made picture frames and has created, dragonflies, horses and flame door stops.
And it’s not only while he’s out and about that David is looked after. At home, he and Leasa have established their own unique bond. They’ve learnt to laugh at things and not get upset.
“I’ve never had children so I’ve never had to dress somebody. I’ve had to learn how to dress David. We had a laugh the other morning when he went out wearing odd shoes.”
They have also made physical changes around the home. David and Leasa painted one wall in each room of their home a different colour. David now knows there’s the red room, the blue room, the orange room and so on, making is easier for him to understand where he is and what to do in each room.
“We are very lucky David has a calm and gentle nature” says Leasa. “We’ve learnt that when he’s sad, he’s sad, and when he’s happy, he’s happy, and that’s just the way it is. And we try to laugh.”
Are you interested in what this could look like in your community?
The first step is to become a Dementia Friend. Find out more at dementiafriendly.org.au or call our National Dementia Helpline 1800 500 100.