When Joe Dalmonte first moved in, we struggled to know how to help him.

Each day seemed a fight for survival for Joe. He would even rummage through other residents’ belongings looking for food. As the team came to know Joe’s story, they learned to understand his behaviour, as well as how to best care for him.

Joe was born in northern Italy and sent off to a prestigious boarding school in Florence in order to receive his education.

But history had other plans for his learning. Soon after arriving at the school, the Nazi military requisitioned it as their regional headquarters. The boys were imprisoned in their dormitories and denied any provisions. Instead of teachers there were soldiers, instead of books there were guns, and the only class was in how to stay alive.

For two years, the German military occupied the school, and throughout this time Joe honed his skills in survival and providing for those around him. He became a forager, one of the boys who snuck out of the dormitory at night in order to search the school and village for any food or supplies for the others. Each night he went out he risked his life for others.

Over time, the path of the war through the village made it harder for Joe and the other students to survive. Food became more difficult to find. Familiar faces disappeared. Bombs destroyed buildings beyond recognition. Each night he went to bed not knowing if he’d survive the night. After the war, Joe’s work in engineering led him to Australia.

His company sent him to work in the Illawarra area. He met his local barista, Mira, whom he then married. They built a home in Dapto, and raised a family. Joe poured himself into his work over the next 30 years, where his exceptional work ethic, attention to detail, and sharp numeracy skills earned him the nickname ‘The Professor’.

Hard times arrived in 1983 when Joe was in his mid-50s. Mira passed away and shortly after Joe was retrenched.

Remembering this time, Joe’s son Andrew Dalmonte says, ‘This was a stab in the heart for him. He experienced both these losses as a total collapse of his life. He shut down’.

Around 2004 Joe’s health started to deteriorate and his friends and family noticed a dramatic shift in his character. He became lethargic and insular, and he stopped washing and eating regularly. Joe was displaying the first signs of dementia. As a result, Joe reverted to the habits of his childhood in wartime Florence. He shut himself away, began foraging again, stealing from local shops and going through garbage bins. Over the next few years Joe’s memory worsened, he grew resistant to people helping him, and he was eventually hospitalised. It was at this time that Joe was referred to HammondCare’s dementia-specific residential care cottages at Horsley. And although the team at Horsley found it difficult at first to know how to care for Joe, they were determined to understand him and find creative ways to meet his needs. In order to help with the foraging, the staff arranged for Joe to visit the on-site ‘supermarket’ – a replica of a working supermarket designed to engage people with dementia in familiar activities – and would turn a blind eye as Joe pocketed dry food to take to his room. This has given Joe a sense of well-being, and enables him to feel comfortable and in control of his environment.

Joe’s son Andrew visits his dad regularly, and has noticed how greatly his quality of life has improved. ‘He’s happy as Larry at HammondCare. His health has improved astronomically.

He always used to say, ‘I’ve lived too long’. But since coming to HammondCare he never says that anymore. He’s found a place where he can just be. He’s not stressed about anything, and he’s rediscovered the benefits of company. And thank goodness for your food! It’s just awesome. Everything’s fresh and Dad prepares some of it himself. It’s perfect. I’ve seen other services where you could bounce the food off the floor it’s so overcooked. Who wants to eat that? So please don’t stop serving fresh food, Dad loves it’.

Moving to HammondCare Horsley has been a restorative experience for Joe. He was once at a point where he couldn’t recognise anyone in his photos, but lately these details have been coming back to him. This kind of improvement is not the experience of everyone who lives with dementia, but it has been a delight for the team at Horsley to see Joe’s improvement as they’ve come to know him and care for him.

Case notes

Joe arrived at HammondCare Horsley in October 2011 with a diagnosis of dementia. Immediately prior to moving in he was living a largely isolated life, and his personal care and nutrition were quite low.
When Joe arrived it was clear that he was not used to social interaction in the same way our other residents were. It was important to us to help him feel comfortable. We gave him the freedom to be as involved as he would like, and made sure that he felt in control of interactions with staff.
He’s in a much better place now. We found it helpful to ask for his help with everyday activities, like taking out the garbage bins. He is a gentleman, and so would of course be willing to help, and this initially helped him become interested in going for walks and leaving his room.
As we got to know Joe we came to understand the survivalist mindset he was coming from, and we tried out a few things to meet his needs in this context. It was very satisfying to be able to make him feel comfortable. His overall health and well-being have improved over the past three years, and this is a delight to see.
Angela Rolls
Team Leader
HammondCare Horsley