GOOD NEIGHBOUR PROGRAM
One of the great outcomes of funding researchers is they are then able to recruit PhD students to work alongside them. It creates a pipeline for training the next generation of researchers within geriatric mental health, and these opportunities enable the students to make strong contributions to research and development.
One such PhD student is Nicole Walker who works with Dr Nadeeka Dissanayaka. After considerable ground breaking work, Nicole submitted her thesis this week. This is a huge achievement, especially as her thesis was successful in developing an excellent and much needed program for people living in residential aged care, and specifically people with dementia.
Nicole’s thesis is especially timely as September is Dementia Awareness month. During September, Australians have been encouraged to get involved in Dementia Awareness Month to help improve the lives of people living with dementia, their families and carers.
Through her work with Lions, Nadeeka has previously shared information in relation to the ‘Good Neighbour Program’, but Nicole has kindly shared a summary of her work entitled – A Positive Move to Improve Mental Health and Quality of Care for persons in Residential Aged Care and with dementia
Running for the past three semesters, the ‘Good Neighbour Program’ is an ongoing group-based intervention, which provides social support and social integration for older adults institutionalised in residential aged-care including persons with dementia. Many of the residents present with mental health and behavioural issues, as well as age-related decline. The program is particularly innovative, in that it doubles as a learning and development initiative – offering applied work experience opportunities to undergraduate students each semester at The University of Queensland. With evidence based support mechanisms in place, students conduct regular visits with residents to foster ‘neighbourly’ relationships. Students also attend group-mentoring sessions to reflect on their interactions and engage in both theoretical and peer-based learning.
Quantitative and qualitative data gathered suggests this intervention has been successful on three fronts: 1) transformational learning experiences for undergraduate psychology students (theoretical understanding and ageist attitudes), 2) notable improvements in reported resident behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia, and finally 3) positive effects for residential care staff, for example, increased time for person centred care and more positive organisational culture.