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Derek and Wendy embrace The WISER Approach

A dementia diagnosis 12 years ago prompted Derek Thompson to rise to the challenges of changing domestic circumstances.

But it is not Mr Thompson who was diagnosed with cognitive impairment, it was his wife Wendy.

He is one of an ever-growing number of people that have found themselves in the role of primary carer for a loved one, with little prior knowledge of dementia.

National Carers Week aims to raise awareness of the role of those that support individuals at home, and the services provided in the aged care and disability sector.

Thanks to dementia carer training and peer support in recent years, Mr Thompson has adopted Montessori-based strategies and has shared knowledge of how to adapt to the difficulties he has encountered in managing his wife’s reduced independence.

He underwent carer training in The WISER Approach, not-for-profit Omnicare’s holistic initiative that originated as a dementia program.

“Initially, you find out what you’re doing is all wrong,” Mr Thompson says, “and you learn more about how to manage people living with dementia.

“From there, it’s a very individual thing, because you’re dealing with that one person and you’ve got to understand [what’s going through their mind] – and you don’t pick that up right away.”

Mr Thompson cites stress and loneliness as two of the major negative impacts that primary carers of people living with dementia often can face.

“There can be mood changes,” he says. “I’ve heard time and time again: ‘The person I’m looking after is not my husband. He’s changed’.”

Unpredictable behaviour can take its emotional toll on carers, but Mr Thompson’s training, and listening to the experiences of other carers have taught him how to recognise what is triggering frustration or aggression.

Underpinning The WISER Approach is the principle an individual with dementia is the same person and they are not defined by their condition.

Omnicare’s WISER team facilitates chat groups that bring together primary carers to discuss their experiences. During the early stages of the pandemic these moved online.

The easing of Covid restrictions has allowed carers to meet in person again.

“What the chat groups bring is honesty and the sense that others are going through similar experiences,” Mr Thompson says.

“We listen and learn, and go home happier and better equipped to care for our loved ones.”

National Carers Week runs until Sunday 18 October.