One operator that has taken on the ‘dementia challenge’ is Keyton, which has 75 retirement villages across Australia and has seen all its village staff from the executive leadership team down complete training with Dementia Australia.

“We obviously see in the villages that our staff witness a lot of changed behaviours, some of which may be because a resident has dementia,” said Marcelle Wilson, Keyton’s National Operations Manager – Governance & Compliance.

Marcelle Wilson

“So, it’s important for the staff that they understand what dementia is, and what they can do to assist that person living with dementia to feel more comfortable.”

“From the other residents’ perspective, they are living in a community so it’s important that they understand so that they can be more patient with people who might have some behavioural symptoms of dementia.”

Educating residents to end dementia ‘stigma’

Keyton first started working with Dementia Australia in August 2018 when the operator held Dementia Friends workplace events in its Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth corporate offices and for staff across 26 villages in ACT, NSW, VIC, and QLD.

The Dementia Friends campaign is run as a free morning or afternoon tea event where staff can come to learn more about dementia and hear people living with dementia tell their stories via a series of videos with the aim of reducing some of the stigma around the disease.

“We know there is some discrimination and angst [among village residents], and it’s driven by a lack of understanding of the disease,” said Marie Norman, National Relationships Manager at Dementia Australia, who worked with Keyton on their dementia education content.

Marie Norman

“People often find it confronting if their fellow residents are disorientated or being more outspoken, which can happen depending on where the damage is in the brain.

“We help them to understand that it is a disease process and not someone simply becoming difficult.”

Supporting carers in the village

The other aspect is supporting those residents where one person is acting as a carer for a partner living with dementia.

“There’s a whole support network system that needs to be in place,” said Marcelle. “Some carers aren’t aware of the resources that are available for them to tap into so it’s also about connecting them with organisations such as Dementia Australia.”

Dementia Australia can also provide villages with advice on changes to the village, for example, improved signage and using name badges, that can help people living with dementia to navigate their way around more easily.

Rebranding as Keyton, the village operator introduced new staff name badges with only the staff member’s first name in black text on a white background so the name is easy to distinguish.

Ongoing dementia education required

Following the success of these Dementia Friends workplace events, Keyton rolled out Dementia Australia’s Understanding Dementia training – three-hour, face-to-face sessions for village staff – across all its villages in 2019, with 400 staff taking part.

These training sessions discuss steps that Village Managers can take to better support their residents.

“The education gives them the capacity and confidence to be able to handle situations and empowers them to make better decisions to work out a way to support that person,” said Marie.

Dementia Australia advises that this kind of training should also extend to all village staff, for example, reception, gardening, and maintenance staff who may have contact with residents.

Reducing dementia risk

The final piece of the puzzle is dementia prevention.

With ‘wellness’ becoming a growing part of the value proposition in retirement living, village operators are also playing a role in helping residents to reduce their dementia risk.

Case in point: Keyton and Dementia Australia worked together from 2019 to create a bespoke presentation for residents called Brain Fit which was rolled out across most villages for residents to attend and presented by Dementia Australia staff.

“This was mainly to start the conversation about dementia with the residents by focusing on the positive side of keeping well, eating right, and being physically active to reduce the risk of cognitive decline,” said Marcelle.

Keyton is now looking to re-introduce Brain Fit presentations for residents next year.

With the Government putting more funding into helping older Australians to live at home for longer, should all village operators be following Keyton’s example?

Dementia Australia’s National Dementia Helpline is available 24/7 on 1800 100 500 for advice and support.