As dementia is “a terrifying, confronting time,” a bowls club in Cairns has made its facility more accessible and is smashing stigmas around dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Edge Hill Memorial Bowls club in Cairns has become the first dementia-friendly venue in Far North Queensland, and staff are also raising community awareness.
Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is the second leading cause of death in Australia.
George Burnett is the club’s Dementia Alliance Australia advocate, who worked rigorously to bring about the change whilst living with younger-onset Alzheimer’s himself.
“The awareness being, we need to work on the de-stigmatisation of dementia because there are many forms of dementia,” Mr Burnett said.
“We need to work on education of the general public, but also education for people with dementia.”
“Because it is a very terrifying time for them, it is very confronting.”
Contrasting colours make venue more accessible
Bowls club manager Lawrence Green confessed that before open and honest conversation with George, he had assumed dementia was a memory loss condition of the elderly.
“He changed my view on it and I now understand that it is not just about that,” said Mr Green.
“It comes down to having tolerance and having patience with people.”
“It changed the way we did things here, it changed what we were going to do here.”
After receiving a $15,000 grant, the club was able to make life-changing modifications to the venue environment and internal culture.
Mr Green said that adding contrasting colours to environments was a simple yet vital change that any venue could make that will make life easier for people with dementia.
During lockdown, club staff repainted the bar, which was previously different coloured timbers, which to dementia patrons looked to have varying depths.
“We’re in the process of changing toilet seats, because generally toilets are very white and clean, and then you have a white cistern, a white seat, a white lid and a white background and it disappears,” said Mr Green.
“It’s amazing how the simple little things make life for other people much easier, and that’s all were trying to do and offer a safe environment for people.”
Psychologist Denise Craig OAM attended the launch of the dementia friendly venue and said she intended to champion information sharing.
“I will help to facilitate the club to rise above and beyond, perhaps even beyond their own expectations,” Ms Craig said.
“Dementia tends to be a very stigmatising condition, I expect for that stigma to be reduced or removed completely from this club.”
“This will become a safe place for people with dementia to come and enjoy the companionship of other people, the physical activity of bowls or simply the social activity in being in the club.”
‘Never underestimate a person with dementia’
All staff have undergone a short course as a compulsory part of their employment, to educate them on dementia and become a “dementia friend”.
“Because very often people who are dealing with people with dementia don’t recognise the signs and symptoms,” Mr Burnett said.
“Very much like mental health first aid, if you don’t know how to recognise the signs and symptoms you don’t know how to react.
“Be kind, be empathetic.”
“That person with dementia still has, very often, a great deal of retained long term memory. They still can adapt themselves to many many things.
“If you look at someone and you think something isn’t quite right, question that within yourself and stay on that empathic road because they well could be a person with dementia that you’re dealing with”.