An old man smiling while having a conversation with a woman who is shown from a backside angle

A cultural journey supporting people with dementia

Tuesday 24 November, 2020

A painting depicting a cultural journey supporting people with dementia

DSA is committed to improving the quality of life for people living with dementia, which includes understanding the connection to land, spirit, and culture, so important in our Indigenous and First Australian communities.

In our Northern Territory offices, maps show tribal or nation groups to give context to different languages, stories and songlines. And, when our clients are in care away from home, our consultants bring in local earth, plants and oils rich with the scents of their own country.

This is just one example of the spirit of understanding, collaboration and connection that underpins Dementia Support Australia’s approach to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with dementia, and their families.

“We know that culture and connection to country play a central role when people from an Indigenous background are referred to us,” says Prof Colm Cunningham, Director Dementia Support Australia. “Our individualised approach is actually built around this understanding because culture and background are key to developing effective strategies and support.”

Some of the most common reasons for referrals from Indigenous clients included issues around pain (41%) and the impact of cultural factors (26%), with the most common themes around cultural history, personal interests and communication. 

One of the initiatives of DSA to maintain and enhance our approach is a partnership with Balarinji, and the commissioning of a design for online and printed resources specific to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities whose lands we serve. The aim is to demonstrate to clients and families the message of aiming to walk hand in hand on a journey.

Balarinji is a Sydney-based, Aboriginal-owned strategy and design agency founded on authentic engagement with Aboriginal people, culture, art, stories and identity.

“Balarinji was a perfect fit for us,” says Colm. “I had the pleasure of seeing their work evolve into the beautiful materials we now can share in our work.”

 “The design we created for Dementia Support Australia is based on the artwork Spring Journey & Spirit Ancestors,” says Managing Director, Ros Moriarty. Spring Journey depicts the scorched earth under the sparse shade of desert scrub. The land drums a tribal beat. The design is about a journey through time.

“There are tracks with people resting along the way,” Ros explains.  “Different colours represent unique songlines, all on the same path. People are guided along songlines by their ancestors, represented by spirit people motifs. The people on the journey stop and watch the spirits dancing in celebration of life. We wanted the tone of the design to be uplifting and warm, reflecting Dementia Support Australia’s values of listening and relating, enabling choice, tailoring care and nurturing the whole person.”

Balarinji’s ethos is to deepen the understanding of Aboriginal Australia through authentic Indigenous design.

“It’s particularly rewarding for us when the Aboriginal community itself is benefiting from greater cultural awareness from service providers,” says Ros. “We’re proud to collaborate with organisations like Dementia Support Australia who want to celebrate Australia’s Indigenous narrative and share this with their Aboriginal clients and other stakeholders.” 

The new design was launched online and through printed resources during November’s NAIDOC Week. Learn more here.

“NAIDOC is a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” says Colm. “We see this as the ideal time to demonstrate our continuing support in working with local Indigenous service providers and communities through our DSA service delivery to people with dementia across Australia.”