Community shares dementia knowledge and experiences
 Baw Baw News   By // 13:26, Monday 15 June 2015

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WHILE prime minister Tony Abbott surfed to raise money for New South Wales’ Wipe Out Dementia Fundraiser, volunteers in Gippsland united to share their own experiences and further educate themselves.

First published in the 29 May 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen


Christine Thomas and Jenny Skuja are two volunteers who work with people suffering from dementia in the Gippsland region.

Both Thomas and Skuja have witnessed the impact of the disease first-hand.

“I have worked as a volunteer for 10 years and in the aged care field for over 25 years. In my line of work I have met and interacted with lots of people, living with varying forms of dementia,” Christine Thomas said.

“Unlike Christine, I have only served as a volunteer for six months. I think my dad might have dementia because he presents some notable symptoms. However, I am unsure whether or not this is the case and am currently seeking out further information,” Jenny Skuja said.


Ms Thomas and Ms Skuja were just two people in a crowd of dozens of volunteers who attended Alzheimer Australia’s Education Seminar in Drouin in May.

According to Alzheimer’s Australia Community Visitors Scheme program coordinator Rosemary Joiner, the amount of interest the event attracted was much higher than anticipated.

“Initially, we were unsure as to whether even a small group of people would attend. However, today’s turnout has been remarkable and the event has been a complete success,” she said.

“We had to move the event from the Alzheimer Australia’s office in Drouin to Lyrebird Village in order to accommodate for a greater amount of people.”

Members of the public who had partners and relatives living with the disease also attended the seminar.

Volunteer Christine Thomas said she believed the event’s popularity was both a blessing and a curse.

“The amount of people here today suggests that lots of people want to be further educated about dementia and is a good opportunity for members of the community to meet each other,” Ms Thomas said.

“However, at the same time, today’s unfortunate large turnout, highlights the significance of dementia and that communication about the disease requires improvement. We (myself and Jenny Skuja) only knew about this event because of our volunteer work.”


Ms Thomas said she believed not all members of the public were able to access information about dementia which could be of benefit to them.

“Not everyone has the technology to access certain resources and information relating to the disease, and how best to go about treating a family member or friend who is suffering from dementia,” she said.

Despite a power failure, Alzheimer’s Australia facilitator Michelle Foster gave an engaging and insightful presentation at the event.

Throughout Ms Foster’s talk members of the audience acted out scenarios involving a person with dementia and how the brain functioned, specifically the severed connected between neurons.

Over the course of the three hour event numerous topics associated with dementia were covered including symptoms and behaviours, risk factors, effective means of communication – for example body language and tone – and strategies for dealing with certain situations.

More information on Alzheimer’s can be found at

Alzheimer’s Australia’s Drouin office is at 2B / 35-37 Princes Way Drouin.



Awareness will help reduce Alzheimer’s stigma

By Jack Lacy. First published in the 15 May 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen

WITH prevalence of dementia set to skyrocket in Gippsland, Alzheimer’s Australia will host its first education session in the region.

According to the latest Gippsland Dementia Action Plan (2011-14), there are over 2,837 people living with the neurodegenerative disease.

In Baw Baw alone there are approximately 714 people living with dementia, a figure which is predicted to rise by an astounding 1000 per cent in 2050.

“By 2050 we will be looking at 7850 people [with dementia],” Alzheimer’s Australia Gippsland facilitator Michelle Foster told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.

“Australia has an ageing population and people are living longer.”

Ms Foster said that while the services available in the Baw Baw region were to be commended, greater funding and education was required.

“The facilities that I go to are fantastic and the services that Gippsland has are amazing, but as the prevalence [of the disease] increases we need more awareness and more funding to support people,” she said.

Next Wednesday Ms Foster will make a presentation at an education session in Drouin, in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Australia.

Ms Foster said the aim of the seminar would be to educate volunteers affiliated with dementia support services.

“The intention of the seminar is to further educate volunteers about dementia, to try and raise awareness of dementia, and de-stigmatise it,” she said.

“It’s important for volunteers to receive education because it does empower them in their work and makes it worthwhile for the people they visit.”

Ms Foster’s seminar will address triggers associated with the disease and identify behaviours of concern.

“A few signs include being unkempt, performing a function or activity you have normally been able to quite well but are having trouble with knowing what to do next, not knowing what household items are for, ie. putting the keys in the oven not absent mindedly, anxiety and distress.”

Alzheimer Australia’s event will also equip volunteers with strategies for communication to improve their interaction with the people they visit.

“If someone repeatedly tells you the same story or the same question three times within a very short space of time, as if it was the first time you had asked it, understand that its due to the dementia rather than getting annoyed or short,” Ms Foster said.

“Speak to the person adult to adult, not as an adult would to a child. You don’t need to raise your voice, they might not understand a particular word or might need longer to comprehend it. The rule of thumb is five seconds to wait to give them time to come up with a response.”

“Also it helps to immerse yourself in the person’s world. Join them in their reality.”

Program Coordinator of the Community Visitors Scheme for MS Australia Rosemary Joiner echoed that sentiment.

“One of our volunteers visits an old lady with a severe form of dementia,” Ms Joiner said.

“On one occasion she thought she had lunch with the Queen of England. Instead of criticising or correcting her behaviour, which would provide her with great discomfort, the volunteer went along with what she was saying.”

Ms Joiner is responsible for organising and running the education session in Drouin.

“Part of my role is to run events like these several times a year, across Victoria, including in East Gippsland. However, this is the first event to be held in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Australia.”

While Alzheimer’s Australia’s event is primarily geared towards volunteers, Rosemary Joiner and Michelle Foster believe that the general public can also benefit from the discussion.

“In the past, we have had members of the community attend previous education sessions, who have a family member, friend or acquaintance diagnosed with dementia. People living with dementia are not only old, they can be young as well’, Rosemary Joiner said.

At the latest session I presented there was a couple; one of them had their father pass away from dementia and the other had a father diagnosed with [the disease.]

“The couple had real life experience with dementia, witnessing it first-hand and when they came to the session it reassured them.

“The session helped confirm that their cause of action and the decisions they made for their loved was right.”

Ms Foster said she hoped informing and educating the community about dementia would improve tolerance of the disease in the community.

“Hopefully we will become a more dementia friendly community,” she said.

“If you can let one person know about it, hopefully they will talk about it and other people will understand what goes on, which will encourage them to support people who live with the disease.”

Alzheimer Australia’s education event will be held on 20 May 2015 from 10:00 until 13:00 at Lyrebird Village, Drouin.

If you are living with dementia or know someone who needs support you can call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

You can also visit Alzheimer Australia’s Drouin office, 2B/35-37 Princes Way.

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