Age Concern New Zealand’s Chief Executive, Stephanie Clare, says there’s a stigma attached to dementia that needs to be addressed. It’s important people still feel respected and valued, particularly when they enter residential care and experience a loss of autonomy.
“Dementia is a chronic disease, and yes we are seeing more of it. But it’s not contagious and treating people with kindness and care makes the biggest difference to the people themselves and their families,” she says.
“Our expertise is in loneliness and aging and I know when you have dementia, people withdraw. So loneliness for me is something that also needs to be addressed. Making a place that’s comfortable for others to visit so the person isn’t isolated should be a real focus for residential care facilities here in New Zealand.”
Stephanie visited the Netherlands in 2019 on a study tour and was excited to learn about their innovative approach to dementia care. Their programmes revolved around two key principles – ensuring those with dementia had real purpose in life and remained connected to the community.
“I visited what was called ‘green care farm’ – these are working farms that people with dementia visit each day. They help garden, look after animals, chop the firewood, muck out the chickens… they had a purpose, they were busy and they were active.” Students and volunteers also worked on the farm so those with dementia were part of a wider community effort rather than being shut off from society in separate, secure facilities.
The second dementia care programme Stephanie visited focused on daily art classes. “With a really passionate leader, they created artworks and then every so often they had art exhibitions and the community came in and saw what was going on. There was such energy and it was such a respectful view of allowing older people to be who they are.”
Stephanie believes the essence of both these programmes could easily be replicated in New Zealand to provide optimum care for future dementia suffers. Innovation and diversity of care need to be a priority for our whole community, not just the aged care sector, she says.
“I would love to influence risk-adverse policies to allow things to occur; to allow people to live. But we have to adapt our health and safety and our processes. It’s just thinking differently about care and kindness and treating dementia as another one of the chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and less with stigma. Less isolation, more inclusion, more community work.”