It has now extended to three Groups in Whanganui and one in Marton. The Marton Kiwi Group and the Whanganui Fern Group meet every second and fourth Monday of the month. The Whanganui Paua Group meet every first and third Monday. The Whanganui Tui Group meet on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Social isolation and depression can be predisposing factors to developing a dementia. It is important for our well being to be socially connected and have a purpose to our lives.
The Group has a threefold purpose. While it brings people with dementia together, it also gives the carers a regular break plus ongoing weekly contact with our organisation and is helping to break down stigma and barriers in our local area. Opportunities for a break are essential to ensure families who wish to remain living together can do so successfully, as a caregiver observed “just having three hours to oneself makes a huge difference to one’s mental health as a caregiver.” Carers feel more supported through the weekly contact with our organisation.
The Group focuses on creating good relationships between people with dementia and their communities. A good relationship gives us a sense of connection, value and purpose. The benefits have been amazing. The Group is very diverse but they all have a genuine care and interest in each other. A new Group member remarked “You’ve opened up a new life for me, everyone, men and women talk to me, everyone is so friendly and everyone treats me like an individual not an ‘it’.” By being out and about, involving community organisations such as the Museum and bowling clubs, people see the person and not their disability.
The Group members are picked up from their homes. The journey in the van and interacting with one another are highlights of the day. During the warm months we utilize the outdoors as much as possible – visiting parks, gardens, lakes and the beach. Although members are involved in planning of activities they generally do not mind what we do. We quickly realised that it wasn’t the activities that were of importance, it was meeting up with their new friends that mattered. When asked in a recent survey “What is the best thing about being a part of The Group?” members replied: “The camaraderie; general togetherness; company; getting out and about and seeing life; I am no longer lonely and everyone seems happy and willing to help; we do forget a name sometimes but who cares; meeting others and going to different places, talking to other people, we all have a good time, lots of laughter and fun.”
Music can play a very important role in the lives of people with dementia, whether that is listening to a group perform, or being involved in singing or playing an instrument themselves. We have members who are musicians and are still quite capable of playing an instrument and that is something we really encourage; the continuation of their musical talent.
Because people with dementia live in the moment, we focus on what they are still able to do. We encourage a gathering of happy people who are all equal; we share our experiences; we are spontaneous. It is wonderful seeing people coming together, relaxing, enjoying great food and LAUGHING. Laughter is definitely the best medicine. Carers tell us that although the person they care for might not remember what they have done, the feeling of happiness continues for some time after they return home.
An invaluable outcome of The Group is it eases the transition into Rest home day care and eventual full time care as The Group members either recognise or are friends with other Group members already accessing this care.