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Gwenda is a proud Palawa woman descendent from the Tasmanian Tebrikuna Tribe. She lives on the land of the Wamba Wamba nation in the small country town of Finley.
Diagnosed with younger onset behaviour variant frontotemporal dementia nine years ago, Gwenda is a strong advocate for people living with dementia.
Gwenda shares with us what healthy ageing means for her and her community.
“There is a lot more to healthy ageing than walkers or meals on wheels,” Gwenda said.
“Our elders play an important role, ensuring continuance of our culturally rich and diverse heritage. This can only happen if all aspects of healthy ageing are addressed.”
Elders should be able to communicate in language
Being able to speak in language is important to keep elders connected to their community and culture, Gwenda says.
“Our elders must be given the opportunity to speak their first language in their senior years, ” Gwenda said.
Due to intergenerational trauma, Gwenda says that many elders are unlikely to seek support from government support services. Speaking in language helps to keep them connected to their community and culture.
“Our elders will always be hesitant and suspicious of ‘white man’ services - the elderly will choose their own communities as their supports.”
Maintaining good dental health is vital
Another aspect of healthy ageing is nutrition and to achieve a healthy and nutritious diet, maintaining good dental health is vital.
“Communities are desperate for dental care Australia wide,” Gwenda said.
“We know lack of nutrition contributes to cognitive decline. How do we eat healthy, nutritional food without teeth?
“I had my top teeth removed at 11 and bottom at 14 by the school dentist as I was an Aboriginal child and the school dentist did not fill Aboriginal children’s teeth.
“Now I still wear ill-fitting dentures due to my malformed bone growth from my teenage years. I can’t get new dentures from an aged care package.
“I don’t tell you these things looking for empathy, I tell you because I hope you will realise there is so many aspects to ageing well.”
Let the change begin with you
Gwenda invites everyone to be a part of the change.
“In Aboriginal communities people living with dementia are often seen as Gwarny or Womba ‘Stay away from that old fella’. We need to destigmatise it,” Gwenda said.
“Let the change begin with you!
“Talk to that old fella in the street, ask him how his day is going, yarn with that old woman in the supermarket, reach for the item she is trying to get from the back of the shelf.
“Remember your assistance may be refused as reciprocity can be expected in Aboriginal communities so people decline rather than owe you.
“If refused when you make an offer it’s important to acknowledge and respect that it is possibly because of mistrust.
“I suggest you smile perhaps say to the person, ‘Maybe next time you will give me the privilege of helping you.’ This will hopefully allow community members to build relationships and develop trust.”
We thank Gwenda for kindly sharing her story and for all that she does to advocate for her community and improve the lives of people living with dementia.
No matter how you are impacted by dementia or who you are, Dementia Australia is here for you. Call us on 1800 100 500 to find out what support services we have available.