Dementia day-care centre well attended

CASSANDRA POKONEY
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2014

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Southland has a growing number of people with dementia - Aged care facilities are reporting increasing demand for dementia services, and the Southern District Health Board has recently awarded new contracts to provide respite care, relieving the pressure on increasingly stressed caregivers.

Reporter Cassandra Pokoney sat down with an Invercargill couple to find out what it was like living with dementia, and also caught up with staff at what is believed to be the only stand alone dementia day centre in Invercargill. 

Twice a week a house in Invercargill is filled with people reminiscing about days gone by.

The house, in Windsor, looks like many others in the suburb.

And for all intents and purposes, it is like most others.

Except it also serves its own special purpose.

The house, called Gaius Cottage, is believed to be the only stand-alone dementia day centre in Invercargill.

It is new, opening its doors to the first "club members" on May 22, but staff say the need is there and increasing daily.

The centre, which is independently operated by Good Partners but part contracted by the Southern District Health Board, provides a respite service for people with dementia.

The service presently runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays but there are plans to extend it to six days a week.

Manager Ade Samuel said already feedback had been "amazing".

Service users, referred to as "club members" to help create a feeling of inclusiveness and belonging, attend between 11am and 5pm, taking part in any activity that interests them.

Groups are kept deliberately small, and people are linked according to interests and level of ability.

The focus is on what they can do, rather than what they can't, and staff concentrate on doing things with club members, not for them.

The house is divided like any normal home - there is a dining room, a lounge room, a sitting room designated as a quiet room, a kitchen, bathroom, and craft room.

There are gardens outside and a tool shed.

The gardens are tended by club members interested in gardening, the lounge room has a piano and is usually filled with music, the dining room converts to a sewing room if needed, while the quiet room is full of magazines and often sees people playing draughts.

There are plans to further develop the gardens and install a "bus stop" - an area club members can sit and wait for their ride.

The wait is theoretical - transportation to and from the cottage is arranged by centre staff, but the idea is to give an element of control back to people who otherwise could feel they have none, Samuel said.

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NOTHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT

Each morning Invercargill man Alister Murray gets up and makes breakfast.

Usually it's toast and a cup of tea.

Then the questions start.

Alister has dementia.

He is one of several thousand people the Southern District Health Board has on its books, and among a growing number as the region's population ages.

For Alister, 83, and his wife, Sylvia, 85, the diagnosis, about three years ago, was a shock.

It was picked up during a routine test for his driver licence at his GP.

The doctor noticed he was not answering the questions as expected and sent him to be assessed at the hospital.

The disease has not progressed much since the initial diagnosis, but both said they were often left frustrated.

For Sylvia, frustration comes from the endless questions Alister asks. While he is familiar with his home, there are elements within it which puzzle him - he often asks where he should put his clothes to be washed, and she often finds unusual items in the fridge.

The questions were sometimes relentless, she said. "I answer every time until it gets the better of me and then I say, ‘I don't want to hear about it any more'."

For Alister, frustration comes from the knowledge something is not working quite right, but not being sure exactly what it is.

The situation was made even more difficult two months ago when Sylvia suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital.

The incident has meant she has to avoid all stress - a difficult thing when looking after someone with dementia, she said.

Alister now attends Gaius Cottage one day a week, giving Sylvia five hours of worry-free time to herself, respite which, she says, has been a god-send.

The couple have spoken about what will happen when Alister's dementia gets worse and have been assessed for a placement in a rest home but so far believe they are better staying in the home they have lived in for 30 years.

"At the moment he's better off at home because things are familiar and he knows where things are. I think he's a long way off that [moving to a rest home]."

Alister is also not keen on moving, but accepts it is likely to happen one day. "I'm not too happy about that possibility but if it happens, it happens."

- The Southland Times

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