Creative pastoral presence features at international dementia conference

A creative pastoral care approach for people living with dementia that provides four steps toward comfort and connectedness has featured at the ADI 2015 international dementia conference.

HammondCare Woy Woy Senior Pastoral Care Coordinator Paul Pickering was invited to share his 'heart of the matter' approach through a poster presented at the 30th International Conference of Alzheimer's Disease International held this week in Perth.

Paul, who has training and experience as a nurse, counsellor and pastoral carer, has developed his ideas of 'creative pastoral presence' during a long journey of learning and discovery - not only through his workplace role - but personally through caring for both parents who lived with dementia.

People matter most

"I'm motivated by wanting to help people who truly wish to remain connected with their love one with dementia," Paul said. "I've experienced this in my immediate family and have encountered many people through my work so I'm confident of the effectiveness of this approach."

"My grandfather would often remind me that 'people matter most' and I've pursued this idea as a nurse, counsellor and then in the past 10 years working in pastoral care.

"What is reflected on this poster, and the book I'm writing, are the things I've learned along the way about myself and people, and more specifically, how to continue hopeful and meaningful connection with people, despite the advance of dementia."

Creative reaches the heart of people

Paul's 'heart of the matter' approach champions the idea that 'people matter' and 'creativity reaches the heart of people'. It can be broadly defined by four steps:

  • Assess and research the person's background
  • Plan an action - develop a strategy and select an access point to build rapport
  • Implement action - select and experiment with a creative approach
  • Review impact - evaluate and modify.

"People with memory issues rely heavily on us to help them access the things that speak strongly of who they are," Paul said.

"When I talk about creative pastoral presence, I mean using whatever I know about the person - their passions, values, beliefs, interests - to develop a relational approach unique to them.

"Dementia does not take away personhood, nor does it reduce people's craving for heartfelt affection."

Gloria's story

In his upcoming book, and also on his ADI conference poster, Paul tells of his experience in seeking to connect relationally with Gloria, a resident at HammondCare Woy Woy.

He describes learning from Gloria's sister about how she had lived on a farm and delighted sitting on the riverbank at the end of the day to watch the sun go down. Using a book of Australian landscapes and a 'riverbank' postcard from Ken Duncan, Paul sat and shared the photos with her.

"I watched Gloria's face as I passed the postcard to her and her reaction of connectivity to it as she looked at it. I'd written a small message on the back with my name so she would know who had given it to her.

"Gloria exclaimed loudly, 'Oh! My riverbank!' and promptly put it next to her heart. Later I noticed she had displayed it prominently on her bedside table. Months later when Gloria was sick in hospital, I visited her and she was initially unresponsive. I got down on one knee so we had good eye contact, and smiled as I held her hand in silence.

"Minutes passed. I could see her trying to work out in her mind who I was and what I was doing there. Then Gloria exclaimed, 'Riverbank! You gave me my riverbank!'"

For more information about Paul Pickering's poster and upcoming book, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.