Article written by Sammy Schiller, UQ Masters Social Work student on placement with Ozcare Dementia Advisory & Support Service
My name is Sammy Schiller and I have been undertaking Social Work placement with the Dementia Advisory & Support Service since the beginning of July, based at Shailer Park. I was therefore involved in helping the dementia advisors during the month of September. I found it important to reflect upon events, what I have learnt and also hopefully pass on to everyone some of my learnings before I leave at the beginning of November.
As September came to a close, so too did Dementia Awareness Month. To say it was simply busy would be an understatement, so please think of shopping for groceries on a Sunday afternoon the day before Christmas. It was that kind of busy. This year’s message, Small actions Big difference, represented a national movement towards raising awareness and reducing stigma. The aim was to highlight the small actions which people can take to create a big difference for people living with dementia, their families and carers.
Dementia Awareness month provided me with the opportunity to not only attend a range of different events designed to share the above message but also be involved personally in the delivery of education sessions, expos and community meetings. At these events I spoke with people from a variety of backgrounds, all with differing experiences of dementia. Most importantly, I learnt first hand about the experiences of people living with dementia themselves, listened to reflections from families and carers, and heard positive stories of support and expressions of gratitude for the many services available. Nevertheless, having spoken with members of the community around their perception of dementia, there appears to be a slight disconnect, that is, a misunderstanding of what dementia is versus what it actually isn’t.
A commonly held view appears to be that dementia is a disease relating to only memory loss. Did you know that although memory loss occurs as a result of many underlying causes of dementia, this is not all it is? Dementia is not just a memory disorder. Dementia is a syndrome which includes a range of different symptoms resulting from varied neurological changes occurring in any part of the brain.Therefore in order to reduce stigma we all need to understand and respect, as a community, that the effect on each person is indeed very individual and unique. There are over 100 causes of dementia, all with slightly different associated symptoms and changes. This leads to a quote from Tom Kitwoodl being …, ‘If you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia’. Please think about that!
It is important that as individuals, and as a collective, we understand and respect the experiences of each person’s lived experience and celebrate this diversity in our beautiful world. My time with the Dementia Advisory and Support service at Ozcare has ensured a thorough understanding and appreciation for the person centred framework that so strongly underpins our work.
My hope is that with increased awareness and education surrounding dementia, that all people will adopt the values of this framework into their every day lives. That is, people are experts in their own lives, and with that understanding, as a society we acknowledge everyone’s experience respectfully. Dementia Awareness Month showcased some amazing stories of strength and support, yet there is still much to do to reduce stigma and improve the quality of life for those living with Dementia in our society. I eagerly await and look forward to seeing the growth in society of which I know we are capable of doing.
Reference: Kitwood, T. Alois Alzheimer Professor of Psycho-gerontology, Bradford University UK.