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Social isolation ‘a massive issue’ says Alzheimer’s chief

Alzheimer’s Australia’s newly appointed CEO Maree McCabe tells Australian Ageing Agenda that she wants to ensure the voice of people living with dementia is heard.

Maree McCabe is getting ready for a busy few weeks.

Maree McCabe

On the day she speaks to Australian Ageing Agenda, McCabe is preparing to travel around the states and territories to meet Alzheimer’s Australia frontline staff at local branches, as well as consumers and carers.

“I am so excited. It’ll be the first time I meet many of these staff. They are all so extraordinary; without them we wouldn’t be able to deliver the services and programs we do,” she says.

It’s all part of McCabe’s initiation as national chief executive officer, a position she took up in late February.

McCabe, who has been CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia Vic since September 2010, comes to the lobby group’s top job at a momentous time. It is undergoing a restructure from its current federated model and plans to be operating as a single national body from 1 July.

“We’ve done quite a bit of consultation already but there’s a massive amount of work that still needs to be done,” she says.

The new model will be “very different” says McCabe, who will have a national executive team directing areas such as client services and corporate services, while regional directors will provide local leadership.

“It’s such a complex transition,” says McCabe, whose executive experience in the sector also includes stints as executive operations for TLC Aged Care and general manager of Hospitals for St John of God Healthcare.

“But it is an honour to shape the organisation during this unification process into one that can best provide access, services and programs that make a profound difference to the lives of people living with dementia and their families.”

While achieving some national consistencies is a driver behind the move, McCabe stresses there will still be regional-specific initiatives. She says:

“A program in Darwin that’s unique to that community there might not be needed in Melbourne, for example. It’s about meeting the needs of the communities we serve.”

Dementia and aged care

McCabe becomes leader of the organisation at a time of ongoing debate about the quality of dementia care, particularly in residential care.

Asked for her view, McCabe says: “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting better.”

She says there are many aged care providers doing “fantastic work” in dementia care and providing real leadership in the sector.

“One of the challenges we’re going to have in this sector is workforce. Our workforce is ageing and the conditions for staff are generally not great. It’s something we need to work on.”

As to dementia care in the community, McCabe highlights the need to engage those at risk of isolation.

“We all want choice about where we live in the future and many people want to stay at home, but one of the challenges we’re not sufficiently addressing is social isolation.

“It’s a massive issue and we know that when people with dementia experience isolation their symptoms are more likely to be exasperated. We have to find ways to ensure people are included and have opportunities to be engaged in things that are important to them,” she says.

Which is why Alzheimer’s Australia is so committed to the concept of dementia-friendly communities, McCabe adds.

Consumers front and centre

Long term, McCabe says she wants the voice of people living with dementia to be at the centre of the organisation.

“I want to make sure everything we do is representative of that voice, is informed by it; that we as an organisation provide the services that are needed to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia,” she says.

In a related vein, McCabe says she broadly supports the further reforms set out in the Aged Care Roadmap and singles out the inclusion of consumers in the sector’s deliberations with government as key to the success of future changes.

The way in which consultations have been managed so far illustrates that consumers are core to the process, which is essential if we want a sustainable, consumer-led aged care market, she says.

“The most important part of the roadmap process is the ability for the sector to get together and look at how we as stakeholders figure this out. That’s a big step in terms of creating something that will work for everyone,” she says.

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One Response to Social isolation ‘a massive issue’ says Alzheimer’s chief

  1. Cheryl May 21, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

    Maree, last year I completed the Dementia Practice cert 1V course. I was so inspired. What I am finding is that Management, RNs, ENs, and PCAs are still very task focused. I find that the limitation of staffing does not help with making change. I have booked the Dementia Essential course for staff members to attend. We need to introduce staff to person centred care with family involvement. We need to work as teams. As a lifestyle coordinator working each week day with one other it is difficult to provide the care and support (that I value), without the support of all staff. Change has to come from organisational levels as well. I am passionate regarding change.

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