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Costly care in the dementia ward

A few years ago, for a work project, I visited a range of aged care facilities administered by a large Christian charity that was particularly focused on dementia care. Some of the clients in these facilities were experiencing early onset dementia and others, while older, were on the acute wards.

It was very confronting.

I’m sure it’s not uncommon to feel a bit horrified when experiencing these places for the first time. I know I was. The challenges faced by everyone in them—clients, the workers and family visitors—are immense. The sense of loss weighs heavily in the atmosphere.

But once I got used to that environment, I began to experience something else that stayed with me long after my initial aversion. The care being offered in these places was beautiful, tender, heroic.

The report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, out this week, will reveal terrible stories of a sector under enormous pressure—neglect, mismanagement, preventable injuries, people dying lonely and forgotten. As a culture we are a long way from coming to terms with how we honour and respect older people.

But at our best we are propelled towards the kind of costly care I witnessed in the dementia ward; care that demands time, resources, and most of all, love. This care defies modern measures of personal value based on performance and utility; it is entirely based on a vision of the human person that views every life is precious because we are made in the image of God.

That foundational belief was on sharp display in the dementia wards I visited, and I found such practical outworking intensely moving and inspiring and hopeful.