'Empathy' key in Indigenous dementia care

·2-min read

An empathetic approach must be at the centre of care for Indigenous Australians living with dementia, former Olympian and federal senator Nova Peris has told a major conference into the disease.

Nearly 500, 000 Australians are living with dementia.

Its most common form, Alzheimer's disease, is set to cost $26.6 billion over the next 20 years.

Dementia, a degenerative brain disease, affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks, interfering with a person's normal social or working life.

First nations' voices have rarely been heard on dementia care and health services have not always been developed with Indigenous people in mind.

Speaking at the two-day event in Sydney, Ms Peris - the first Aboriginal woman elected to federal parliament - said dementia care for Indigenous Australians needed to draw on best practice overseas and Indigenous consultation.

"Don't try and reinvent the wheel, look to world's best practice ... acknowledging and respecting the work that's already been done in the first nations space," Ms Peris said.

She urged the aged care sector to have empath front and centre when caring for Indigenous people with dementia.

"Empathy having that understanding of that person's life and the care that you provide for them, makes them happy," the former federal politician said.

"That's my message that I felt was strong in the aged care facilities I've been to, is what makes that old person happy, and give them all that happiness."

The federal government advises that policies aimed at Indigenous Australians with dementia include incorporating cultural perspectives of dementia and support for family and communities to care for loved ones on country.

It also urges dementia policies targeted at Indigenous Australians to be controlled by the community and delivered in a culturally safe manner.

Aged Care Minister Anika Wells is scheduled to address the conference, organised by hospital and aged care charity HammondCare.