At home with… Joan Waters, community member, Forest Hill Dementia Friendly Community group

Coffee with Joan Waters, community member, Forest Hill Dementia Friendly Community group. Joan’s husband Reynolds was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011.

What does a dementia friendly community mean to you?
Each year dementia affects an increasing number of community members and their families. Though the causes and management of the disease are under intensive, world-wide study, there is currently no cure. Research by Dementia Australia and my experience of caring for my husband through 12 years of steady decline shows there is a need for increased awareness and understanding about the disease to reduce the stigma and social isolation that can follow diagnosis. A dementia friendly community is a place where a person living with dementia is accepted as an individual, not defined by their condition but able to enjoy the respect and rights of all citizens.

What is most challenging and interesting about the work of the group?
Before we received the official diagnosis of Reynolds’ dementia, I had already begun to develop a small project, Dementia Friendly Congregations for the Uniting Church, of which he was a minister for 60 years. I was attracted to the community group as its aims and emphasis on individual rights closely aligned with my long-time advocacy work in education. It is rewarding to see a disparate group giving time, sharing knowledge and experience for the common good. Changing community attitudes is the most challenging part of this work; it takes resilience and time to see the impact.

What is the one thing you are most proud of?
My career in early childhood education has given many opportunities to plan and monitor appropriate programs and environments for children, and to influence policies for their care and development. As a member and office-bearer in the World Organisation for Early Childhood Education I’ve been involved in projects in many countries. I was particularly pleased to have my book Helping Young Children Understand Their Rights launched by the world president at the 22nd annual Congress in Copenhagen in 1998.

What advice do you have for a happy and healthy life?
For most of us I think the one depends on the other! We have almost daily reminders of how we should all maintain our physical health – exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, don’t smoke, maintain social contacts. Happiness is more of an individual matter; I suggest not taking life for granted, but taking each day with gratitude – for family, work and the skill and strength to do it, for music, books and friends, and a sense of curiosity that keeps me learning.

If you could change one thing about the world right now, what would it be?
Australia is a party to seven core international human rights treaties. I would like to see more understanding and compliance with two: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), so that respect would become the guiding principle in all our dealings with each other.

Can you share your strategies for living through the current COVID-19 crisis?

During this crisis, though I’m being reminded by every daily news bulletin and newspaper article that I’m “elderly” and at risk, I’m hoping that that dealing with this crisis can make me more resilient! Much about the virus is outside of my control – big changes in some aspects of my life – finances, socialising and travel. So I’m concentrating on things I can do to deal with the uncertainty.

I’ve increased the time I spend on:

  • Listening to ABC Classic radio. Music that’s relaxing and calming and a great dance class session around 11 each morning (when nobody can see me in the kitchen!)
  • Doing each day’s cryptic crossword from the Age, and trying the Sudoku, so far without success
  • Phoning and emailing friends to talk about something other than the coronavirus. “What are you reading?” “What are you watching on Netflix?” “Where are you walking?”
  • Enjoying my small garden. It’s too shaded for vegetables, but I’ve planted hanging baskets and pots of pansies and violas, already showing brilliant colours
  • Exercising more. My gym is closed but I’m working out with on-line classes and taking a different route for each day’s walk, keeping to the left and out of the way of young children wobbling along behind their parents
  • Praying and meditating more. On Sunday members of my congregation were able to take part in an interactive service and there’s a sign on the door ‘The church building is closed, but our hearts are open’.

I’ve cut down the time I spend on:

  • Listening to frequent news bulletins; too much commentary and repetition is anxiety-making
  • Researching for a book I’ve been working on. Now is the time to stop Googling and get serious!

I’ve given myself a challenge

  • I’ve started an on-line piano class. Now there’s time to practice something I’ve always wanted to 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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