VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: Robert Brooker jumped at the chance of participating in testing the START program which offers coping tools for dementia patient carers.
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: Robert Brooker jumped at the chance of participating in testing the START program which offers coping tools for dementia patient carers. Supplied.

Dementia carer support project needs your help

THE National Ageing Research Institute are looking for more volunteers to participate in a project to test practical help tools to support the wellbeing of informal carers looking after dementia sufferers.

The chief investigator and NARI director Professor Briony Dow said her team are still recruiting research participants to test the START program.

They have 15 registered already, but need at least 35 to complete the process of testing and modifying the information supplied by the developers of the original START program, University College London.

Its researchers found the program was effective in reducing the rates of depression and anxiety in carers, and improved coping.  

The test program is eight sessions of education, relaxation and counselling and based on the UK program manual.

"It has three components," Professor Dow said. "One is really understanding more about dementia; learning and understanding what the person you are caring for is going through.

"The next is if they have behaviours, things happening that you don't understand and you're not quite sure how to deal with, it steps you through a process of betting understanding the actual behaviours and how you can manage not only the sorts of things that might trigger, but also your response as a carer.

"The third component is really helping carers to manage their response, to manage their stress and improve their coping strategies."

Making a difference for carers

Project member Robert Brooker, 63, has been caring for his wife Sandy since she was diagnosed with fronto-temporal Dementia, a type of younger onset dementia which is usually diagnosed when the person is in their 50s, three years ago.

"It is difficult to be a carer so the chance also to be a part of something that may be useful for others was important to me," Robert said.

"I put my hand up for selfish reasons because I wanted to judge for myself whether the emotions I was having were common to other carers. The answer was an emphatic yes. It was a relief to have my worries alleviated, and feelings validated," he said.

The START research project has been useful on many counts for Robert. He has enjoyed learning how to relax and the exercises were not only practical but easy.

The tips about learning to plan have proved a boon as he juggles caring with his part-time job working in economic research for NAB. He also appreciated the information about moods that he may experience and has since learned to curb his impatience, or at least most of the time.

"What I realised is that when things got too bad for me, I did not know how to redirect my anger and frustration. I now do, and that has been very helpful for both of us," Robert said.

"What I have learned through START is helping me balance my work, care and life," he said.

"I would encourage anyone who is in a similar position to me to consider taking part in the program. You have nothing to lose but a great deal to gain," Robert said.

Getting involved

Professor Dow explained the project is being delivered in real time, but through the video-conferencing software Zoom.

"We want to see if that works and if so, make it available to carers living in rural and remote areas of Australia," Professor Dow said.

Her team are also looking at how the program can be rolled out across Australia.

The project outcomes report is expected by late 2018.

To find out more about the project, contact Ellen Gaffy at NARI on (03) 8387 2296 or at www.nari.net.au.

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