'See the person' is key dementia awareness message

HammondCare’s Dementia Centre has used a feature in one of Australia’s leading health and aged care magazines to urge the sector to first “see the person” in dementia care.

“It’s about helping to avoid a situation where the person is purely a recipient of care, but instead where their skills and gifts as citizens are valued,” he says in the magazine. Australia has made a significant contribution globally in shifting perceptions from seeing a person with dementia as different, or ‘the problem’, to someone with a condition called dementia. Interviewed as part of the cover feature of Australian Ageing Agenda during dementia awareness month, Director of the Centre, A/Prof Colm Cunningham, says the centre’s overarching focus is on engaging meaningfully with people living with dementia in things that are important in their day-to-day lives.

“We need to change this attitude of difference, but we still have work to do to get everyone there,” he says. “Historically the language around dementia was about sympathy and suffering, but it has progressively moved to engagement and understanding.

“We must at all cost recognise that a person with dementia will always have something to give, teach and help us learn. If we don’t recognise that then the way we engage to care and provide support for people is flawed,” says Cunningham.

Don't lose sight of the person with dementia

The article discusses the varied work of the Dementia Centre across consultancy, research and innovation in practice touching on everything from carer training through to Dogs4Dementia and music engagement, as well as the range of training options available through Hammond College.

But a consistent theme emerges again and again – don’t lose sight of the person with dementia.

Operations Manager Marie Alford, in speaking to staff working with older people, says: “In the busyness of our days of working in care, hospitals, and in community and trying to get all the legislative tasks done, knowing the person sometimes can seem the least important part but getting it right first up saves time and brings the best results.”

Head of Hammond College, Natalie Duggan, in discussing her motivation, says: “It is far more important to know someone’s life history and what makes them tick than the diagnosis that is written on the page.”

She says the Dementia Centre and Hammond College look to work with organisations committed to genuinely making a difference in the lives of people with dementia, not just to “get through accreditation”.

“For us, it is about providing the best quality of care to people with dementia as defined by them or their families, not prescribed by us. The focus is what we can do today to help that person who has a diagnosis of dementia live a life as defined by them.”

World Alzheimer's Day is September 21 - more details here