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Help for carers gets thumbs up

Frank Attard enjoying respite careCentre brings dementia sufferer out of depression.

Local Willoughby resident Frank Attard has been living with dementia for 12 years and has been a client of Catholic Healthcare’s Willoughby Wellness Centre for six years. 

His loving daughter and local Chatswood resident Margaret Attard is quite passionate about Catholic Healthcare’s dementia respite services because it has offered her now social and bubbly father a nurturing approach to care as an adult living with dementia.

An estimated 1.2 million people are involved in the care of a person with dementia and Margaret has been her father’s full-time carer for the past eight years, during which time she also cared for her ill mother before she died.

Following the death of his wife, 86-year-old Frank spiralled into a severe depression and Margaret felt she needed external help caring for her father.

“We tried a number of places with different methods and approaches to respite, and nothing seemed a good fit for dad. At the time, it was very difficult to find a service that did not baby him as there are many places that treat dementia clients in a ‘baby mode’ approach,” explained Margaret.

“I can honestly say, I do not think I would have survived without the Willoughby Wellness Centre all those years ago. It took dad a little time to adjust but he’s been the happiest here and it really helped to bring him out of his depression after losing mum.”

With dementia the second leading cause of death in Australia and the single greatest cause of disability in older Australians (aged 65 years or older) Margaret feels it is important for families to know that there are local services out there to help.

Frank, who migrated from Malta in 1958 and has never been back, was never into social clubs, used to work very hard, and spent a lot of time at home but once he started attending Willoughby Wellness Centre, Margaret noticed he would get excited about returning to the centre and now spends four days per week at dementia day respite. 

“The centre really embodies a sense of community and home and Jonathan Helm (coordinator) does such a fantastic job. He has a genuine and caring nature; he respects his clients but also treats them all as unique individuals and especially as adults.  Every year Jonathon helps dad set new goals, giving dad a sense of purpose to reach these targets,” Margaret said.

“I feel very passionate about the centre’s dementia respite services and the care and support they have provided for my father over the years.”

Margaret is in the process of completing her Certificate IV in Aged Care after spending 20 years in the corporate world, working in agriculture and credit control.

Inspired and motivated by her mothers’ loss to cancer and also experiencing  her own personal battle with cancer,  Margaret realised she was no longer interested in the corporate life and wanted to be involved in a role  that made a difference and cared for others.

At the time of this interview, Frank has been unwell and recovering in rehabilitation after a series of health complications.  Margaret is looking forward to her fathers’ return to the centre where she knows he will get back that spark and zest after having been away.