Community shares dementia knowledge and experiences

Speaker Michelle Foster and Event Coordinator Rosemary Joiner at Drouin's Alzheimer's Education Session

Speaker Michelle Foster and Event Coordinator Rosemary Joiner at Drouin’s Alzheimer’s Education Session

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.

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

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

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