Amanda’s mother, Sue, has lived in a dementia ward in an aged care home for several years.

Prior to that, Amanda was looking after her mother, putting in 30 hours of care a week.

"It was an unbelievable nightmare trying to care for my mother," Amanda said.

At the time, her mother was living in a retirement village. As well as her own hours of care each week, Amanda said her mother received 18 hours of government care and more from a private carer.

"I was still concerned, mainly about her safety. She would wander, or she would turn the heating off and it would be the middle of winter. She would leave the stove on, she would leave the water running. It was an enormous relief to have my mum come into aged care," she said.

But it's become much better since the centre implemented an innovative new program of care for dementia patients, Amanda said.

The program, Making Moments Matter, takes away the hostility of a formal nursing home environment, replacing it with everything homely.

Amanda’s mother is one of the first Australians to benefit from the program, being trialled at the Mountain View Aged Care Plus Centre in Canberra.

Sue's aggression, a typical symptom of the confusion caused by dementia, has dissipated. She's also started eating again, after changes were implemented to make meal times less structured.

"The carers are much more tactile with the residents, they come up very close to them. If they want to shower or change them, they start a conversation with them first. They engage them and get their co-operation, and then move on to whatever they need to do," Amanda said.

She said the morale had lifted too.

"​You can't get away from dementia, it's a hard and heartbreaking journey, but there are these times and these moments. That's what the staff are encouraged to do, to engage with them momentarily where they are and respond to their emotions."

From cuddles from staff, to walking with the cleaners, the new model is designed to make ‘family members’ – not residents – feel safe and at home.

This internationally award-winning model of care, which has been run successfully in the UK for a number of years, has been introduced at two Salvation Army Aged Care Plus Centres, The Cairns Aged Care Plus Centre at Chapel Hill in Queensland and Mountain View Aged Care Plus Centre in the ACT, with operators reporting promising early results.

Upon successful completion of the pilot program, The Salvation Army Aged Care Plus plan to roll the new model of care out across their other Centres in NSW, ACT and QLD.

The Canberra centre has experienced a 100 per cent reduction in expressive behaviours common among dementia patients, like verbal and physical aggression, agitation, wandering and confusion, and a 33 per cent reduction in the number of residents requiring psychotropic medication.

An 85 per cent reduction in falls is attributed in part to brightly painted walls.

Care worker Ahmed has taken the program in his stride. He's started playing the pianola, and the residents all rise to dance around the man whose eyes twinkle and whose smile lights up the room.

"When I came to work here we were like robots," Ahmed said. 

"We have become part of their life, part of their family."

Mountain View Centre manager Helen Blayden said she believed the program was the best model for caring for people with dementia. 

"This model has shifted from task orientation to a focus on empathy and understanding for both the residents and the staff," she said.

Executive Manager of Care Services for Aged Care Plus, Peter Bewert, said the biggest benefit for dementia residents under the new program was their quality of life.

“To see our resident absolutely come alive is an amazing thing to see, to see them interact with other residents and carers, and be truly happy is something to be proud of.”


So, what does the program involve?

Well, instead of the traditional clinical model of care, the Making Moments Matter model focuses on a more personal and emotional approach to dementia care.

Bewert said the program was based on emotional intelligence and treating people as individuals.

“Typically in a lot of training for dementia carers, people are taught emotional detachment,” he said.

“We’ve broken down all those barriers – we think it causes more risk and more harm, and we want an emotional connection between staff and residents.

“When you really start to know a person and relate to them on an emotional level, you start to understand their holistic needs.”

The social model works by focusing on ‘making moments matter’, looking at what matters most to the residents and capturing those moments with them.

“If we can teach people to become more emotionally intelligent and more emotionally aware, we can relate to residents in a feelings-based model,” Bewert said.

“That’s quite revolutionary.

“At the end of the day as human beings we all experience feelings, if we understand it we can relate to it better.”

In addition to a no-uniform policy and intensive training in the UK for staff, the model’s implementation also sees changes made to the interior of the dementia unit to make it feel more home-like, and flexible routines that allow residents to participate in activities as they feel the need.

Residents also share their meal times with staff, and involve themselves in domestic duties to give themselves a sense of purpose and value.

According to some family members, the program is really working.

In the next six months the program will be implemented further, with working laundries and kitchens set to be installed in the facilities so residents can carry out daily routine tasks as they like.

Source: Based on a Sydney Morning Herald ACT News story by Kimberley Le Lievre and an article at Startsat60 here: