A new initiative between Victoria Police and Dementia Australia aims to see police and Protective Services Officers better equipped to interact with people living with dementia, as national Dementia Week kicks off today.
More than 120 police and PSOs have signed up to be part of the Dementia Friends program, an initiative dedicated to ensuring those living with the condition feel valued and understood within the community.
The program involves a series of online modules that help police officers and PSOs improve their understanding of the challenges faced by those living with dementia and support officers to have more meaningful interactions with vulnerable members of society.
Many of those who have signed up have been inspired by their professional and personal experiences, including Sergeant Pauline Drew, based in Victoria’s north west, who has seen firsthand the impact dementia has on her father.
“Sometimes your home and work life collide. I had that experience when my dad, who has dementia, went missing from his assisted living home care facility,” Sgt Drew said.
“Dad has always been a fit and active person but several years ago we noticed that he began to withdraw from conversations and become distressed when asked questions.
“From 2013, dad lived in an assisted living home care facility. He was fit and liked walking and even jogging. He was resourceful and, one day shortly after moving into the facility, was able to leave the home to go on a walk without the assistance of a family or staff member. After a short time, we discovered that he was missing.
“Our family called the police and thankfully, he was located hours later, kilometres from where he had gone missing. The weather was atrocious. Dad was soaked through and cold.
“I will be forever thankful to the police who searched for and found dad. The officers spoke reassuringly with him and convinced him to let them take him home. If he was frightened of them and ran away, we would have been in a different situation.
“My dad looks like any other person. At the time he went missing, he may have just presented as aloof. Police spoke to dad in a sensitive and respectful way, and I am grateful for that.
“Many people may have thought the police were just doing their job but the way they communicated with him made all the difference.
“The Dementia Friends program is important because not only does it enhance effective and respectful conversations, it makes a huge difference to those who need it most.
“Participating in the program demonstrates Victoria Police’s ongoing commitment to supporting people living with dementia, their families and carers.”
The initiative announcement comes as Dementia Action Week gets underway. This year’s action week theme is: ‘Dementia. A little support makes a lot of difference’.
More information on becoming a Dementia Friend can be found online at www.dementiafriendly.org.au