Aged Care Opinion

Maintaining social connections for our elders living with dementia

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Could you imagine waking up one day and feeling completely disorientated? Faces are unfamiliar. Places where you once felt at ease, now suddenly feel foreign, overwhelming and confusing. According to Dementia Australia, there are more than 400,000 Australians living with dementia, and for them, this is an everyday experience.  

The condition is not only distressing for those living with it but also for family members who watch their loved ones slowly slip away.  

Sixteen years ago, my beloved father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.  

My father Dimitrios was born in Thessaloniki, Greece and emigrated to Australia in 1961. Proud of his heritage, he was a hardworking man with a kind soul, he cherished life and held a deep love for his family and community. From the day the doctor delivered the devastating diagnosis, the course of his life and my family’s changed completely.  

When a loved one has dementia, we lose them twice. Once they are diagnosed, and a second time, when they finally pass on. It’s a life-changing experience. My father knew he was not the man he used to be, although he struggled to articulate what was wrong. My family did as much as we could to meet his caring needs. Even I, with a background in social services, did not fully understand the impact this condition had on him and what it meant for the way he could live his life. The funny, sharp and loving man we once knew slowly faded away and, after living with the condition for three years, he passed.  

Back then, less was known about the early signs of dementia or what we could do to help our loved ones. Now in 2023, the options for people living with dementia have dramatically improved thanks to advancements in science. Researchers and organisations like Dementia Australia have made remarkable strides in understanding how this condition affects the brain and how to make life better for affected individuals and families.  

The theme of this Dementia Action Week is ‘Act Now for a Dementia Friendly Future’. At Fronditha Care this means ensuring our elders living with dementia continue to have as much independence as possible and social connections to live a joyful life.   

We know it’s vital to provide built environments that support independence, where they are engaged but not overly stimulated, in an environment that promotes their well-being with familiar surroundings providing safety, security and comfort. These considerations are even more important when the person is a first-generation Australian who comes from a culturally diverse background.  

At Fronditha Care, we tailor our dementia services to match the cultural needs of our Greek elders. This is why our Memory Support Units are designed in close consultation with Dementia Australia and feel familiar with residents. From the Units’ circular design, allowing our elders to freely access and find their way to the different living spaces, gardens and activity areas, to softly bubbling fish tanks providing an engaging stimulus, to murals depicting scenes of Greece such as island beaches and well-known churches and chapels, each element is purposely designed to make elders feel at home.  

Despite the advances we have made in our residential care, the latest data from Dementia Australia shows that most people living with dementia aren’t in aged care homes at all. In fact, two in three are thought to still be living in the community (and this is a modest estimate).  

With ageing in place as an increasingly popular choice for elders in our community, it’s important to equip families with the right tools to keep their loved ones safe and provide our elders with activities that help them stay socially connected. That’s why Fronditha Care created a tailored activity program for our elders with dementia who are still living at home.  

One passion project under this banner, conceived to bring joy, was the conversion of space at our Community Center into a gorgeous co-designed community garden for our elders participating in the Social Support Groups. The garden has raised beds so elders can join in planting, tending, and growing fruits and vegetables. The BBQ and alfresco area is also used for outdoor activities and celebration of significant cultural occasions. With a village-like atmosphere, complete with olive and lemon trees, the space enables our elders to continue to connect with their community in a safe space.  

Having seen first-hand the impact of dementia, I know how critical it is to be proactive in the way we design and deliver services for elders with dementia who maintain social connections. 

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An accomplished strategist Faye has extensive experience in executive leadership roles across government, corporate and for purpose sectors.

In February 2021, she was appointed CEO of Fronditha Care – a leading provider of aged care services and is committed to building on the legacy of the organisation in provision of care to the Greek and broader Australian community. She was also the first female President and Board Chair of the organisation and ended her 9-year tenure in 2019.

Her areas of expertise include aged care, cultural and religious diversity, gender parity, social justice, access and equity and social cohesion.
Passionate about achieving better social outcomes driven by genuine collaboration and engagement, in 2021 she was recognised with a Medal of the Order (OAM) for her contribution to driving social change and inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll for Women as a Change Agent in 2019.

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