Cultural awareness in care


NAIDOC Week is an important opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the history, culture and achievements of First Nations people. In this special episode of The Dementia Podcast, "Talking First Nations: the importance of culturally and spiritually aware care" A/Prof Colm Cunningham speaks to Professor Dawn Bessarab, a Bard/Yindijibarndi woman, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health at the University of Western Australia and lead researcher for the Good Sprit Good Life Centre for Research Excellence at the University of Tasmania.

Dawn and Colm are joined in conversation with Stephanie Charlesworth and Megan Heatrick, Dementia Consultants with Dementia Support Australia who have extensive experience in working with Indigenous organisations, families and communities to support the care of older First Nations people living with dementia.


Good Spirit Good Life tool: a roadmap for care of First Nation people

Co-designed with First Nations research participants, community groups and Elders, the Good Spirit Good Life tool is the first validated tool in Australia that assesses the quality of life for older First Nations people in care.

“The tool enables service providers to sit down with an Aboriginal person and their family to make a cultural assessment,” explains Dawn.

“It contains 12 interconnecting factors that can be used to ask questions around whether an older Aboriginal person in care’s quality of life is good or are there some areas that need attention.”

The factors in the tool include Family and Friends, relationships, community, culture, health and Country and were identified as areas that were important to an older First Nations person’s social and emotional wellbeing.


First Nations people living with dementia and how it is different

Care for First Nations people living with dementia needs to come from a place of cultural awareness and of the trauma that may have occurred due to the Stolen Generations and historical discrimination.

When supporting a First Nations person with dementia, Megan and Steph describe the importance of talking with the family and understanding the person’s story.

“You also have to have done training and education to get an understanding of the trauma they have experienced and how this impacts a person with dementia. This changes your approach,” explains Steph.

When Steph visits a regional remote community, she is aware of the importance of planning, understanding the community and what may be happening culturally at the time.

“It’s important that you have someone with you that speaks language and has that ‘vouched’ relationship. You can’t just rock up by yourself and say here I am to help you with dementia, because that doesn’t work.”


Heal Country

Emphasising this year’s NAIDOC week theme of Heal Country, throughout the podcast the importance of Country to First Nations people’s spiritual and physical health and wellbeing is highlighted.

“When you talk to an older person about Country or you take an older person back to Country you see a change in their well-being, a light in their eyes,” describes Dawn.

“Country is a relation. People will talk about the land, trees, rocks and animals as a relationship.”

How we support a person with dementia to stay on Country or at least stay connected to Country, even in an urban environment is primary to a person’s care needs.”

Dawn suggests service providers look at having excursions to areas that are significant, or have a welcome to country for the local First Nations people to welcome older First Nations people who are from somewhere else into their country to make them feel spiritually, emotionally and psychologically safe.

To hear more stories from Dawn, Megan and Steph and learn about their work to improve the care of First Nations people access “The Dementia Podcast” from your favourite streaming service.


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