September 21 – 27 September is Dementia Action Week.
Elizabeth Baxter, VMCH Dementia Services Specialist, first started with VMCH in 2011 as a case manager, working with a number of people with dementia living in their own homes.
Through this role, she says, she was able to gain practical knowledge on how to support people and their families to continue living well in the community.
With experience largely around less common dementia types, Elizabeth was actively involved in advocating for support provision to people living alone who were either diagnosed with dementia or yet to be diagnosed.
‘I would attend VCAT hearings to support the person, and assist with things like the implementation of home modifications. I had experience with different types of dementia and their challenges, including Lewy Body Dementia Frontotemporal dementia, and Younger Onset Dementia (which is any type of dementia diagnosed before the age of 65 years).’
Elizabeth then moved into case management in both the Home Care Packages team and the Carer Support team, and was asked to facilitate a carer support group for family carers of people living with dementia.
To ensure she had the appropriate skills and knowledge, Elizabeth embarked on a Certificate IV in Dementia Care, to provide her with the necessary resources and understanding to support VMCH clients and their families. She is now studying her Masters in Person-Centered Dementia Care, which she hopes to finish in 2021, depending on what COVID brings.
‘I have learned so much from people living with dementia and their families about what we, as a provider need to do to support their needs, and the focus on individualised care is a recurrent theme for each person.
‘After studying, my passion for quality dementia care grew, and I became involved in community events raising awareness about living with dementia, showcasing what support is available to people, and what best practice should look like.
‘To me, best practice is actively engaging and listening to the person with dementia, as well as their family caregivers and support network to establish what their goals are for care. As health professionals, there is often a focus on clinical support and what is important ‘for’ the person, rather than what might be important ‘to’ the person.
‘I strongly believe in the dignity of risk, and allowing people to maintain their capabilities for as long as possible, even if this means some confronting conversations that may result in families feeling uncomfortable, or questioning the person’s safety. For example, allowing a person with dementia to walk around the block independently if this is important to them, despite the risk of them getting lost or confused.’
Despite the multi-faceted nature of dementia, and the many ways it can affect individuals, Elizabeth’s hope is that that the residents and clients, as well as their family, members can feel heard.
‘I hope people living with dementia can recognise genuine empathy and care in the support provided by VMCH, and develop trust and connection with their care providers.
‘I hope that people can continue to live well with dementia, and that we can support that, however that looks, for each person. I am a strong advocate for individualised support, and to ensure this is delivered.
‘I want to ensure that clients and residents are valued as people, and that we are taking the time to connect and learn about all the things that make each person’s life meaningful.’
As part of Dementia Action Week, VMCH is also proud to announce a new specialist dementia care program in the North Western Melbourne region which will soon be available for older people with dementia who are unable to live in mainstream residential aged care. VMCH’s St Bernadette’s Aged Care Residence in Sunshine North recently constructed Lady Lourdes House, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health’s Specialist Dementia Care Program (SDCP).
Elizabeth says Lady Lourdes House will provide a person-centred, multidisciplinary approach to care for people exhibiting very severe symptoms of dementia whose behaviours may put themselves or others at risk.
‘The program will recognise the needs of people with advanced dementia who cannot be appropriately supported in a mainstream memory support setting, and assist them to continue to live well with dementia.
‘The aim of the program is to provide intensive clinical support and review, with the aim of stabilising the symptoms that result in distress or challenge for the person or their family, before finding a suitable home for the person to transition into permanently at the cessation of their time at Lady Lourdes House.’
The program offers regular on-site support from Dementia Support Australia and clinical expertise through North West Mental Health Service to ensure all support is specific to the needs of people living with dementia.For more information on the program, click here or contact health care providers in the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.