Coffee with…Elizabeth Baxter: Villa Maria Catholic Homes

Describe your work at Villa Maria Catholic Homes
My role is to facilitate the access of individualised dementia and cognition support to people living in the community. This involves awareness raising, developing collaborative projects with a range of existing and new services, education of staff, families and people living with dementia, linking individuals into specialised community services for access to targeted cognition and dementia services, and awareness raising within the community of the growing health concern dementia is posing to the Australian population. My role is to promote how to access a range of supports that individuals might need to remain living well, and to remain living as independently as possible within the community whilst maintaining their capabilities and community connections.

What sort of work were you doing prior to starting at VMCH?
My background and initial studies are in the disability sector, in a range of community settings. Since moving into case management, I have completed further studies in dementia support and after joining Villa Maria in 2011, I’ve had a number of roles within aged care, carer support and a consultation role which is dementia specific.

What excites and motivates you in your role?
I feel so lucky to be working closely with people, both consumers and passionate staff, who have a shared goal of improving the lives of those living with cognitive changes and/or a diagnosis of dementia. I am motivated by seeing positive individual outcomes for people who would be otherwise feeling unsupported, alone or lost within their situation. The small and personal successes often have the greatest impact for me, as they are the stories that we all relate to in some way, and remind me what a privilege it is to be sharing part of someone’s personal journey or story with them.

What strengths do you see in people living with younger onset dementia?
There are a number of strengths that I see in all of the people that I work with; when a person is diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65 years old, they are classified as having ‘Younger Onset Dementia (YOD)’. This diagnosis is particularly challenging for people who may still be in the workforce, have dependent family members at home, financial responsibilities such as a mortgage or car loan, and long-term future plans which are negatively impacted by a diagnosis such as this. The personal stories that highlight the particular strengths of people who are younger upon receiving a dementia diagnosis include strong and loving family support, driven advocacy by family care partners, and a sense of assertiveness and willingness to push for answers and support that is sometimes lacking when a person is older age and more reliant on family or friends to access the services they require.

What kind of a cuppa do you brew when you sit down at your desk in the morning?
A strong English breakfast tea is my preference at the office, although I make a point of getting up early enough to make a freshly ground cup of espresso coffee on my home coffee machine before leaving the house.

If you could change one thing about the world right now, what would it be?
I would de-stigmatise the societal view of people living with dementia in our community; there seems to be a chronic disconnect between what will be Australia’s number one health concern and the acceptance of people living with dementia into mainstream community life.

If you weren’t working at VMCH right now, what would you be doing?
I would be working with another supportive community organisation with groups of people who need passionate and genuine support to live a full and happy life. I gain great personal and professional satisfaction from doing what I can to improve the situation and outlook for people who need support to get what they need and want in life. I really feel lucky to do what I do.

We acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and other peoples of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of the land on which our work in the community takes place. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

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