“I love working with dementia residents,” Penny Palmer says. “I absolutely do. Just because they have dementia and they forget the day to day things, they don't ever lose their feelings and emotions.” Penny is the Lifestyle Co-ordinator at Riverview Gardens Aged Care Centre and she has been with the Centre for 20 years now. She says that seeing the joy on a residents’ face when they do something that they enjoy, or when they see a family member or hear music or a song that brings back a memory for them is so rewarding.

There are three sections to Riverview Gardens Aged Care Centre and Penny explains that dementia residents reside in each of them; the nursing home, the hostel and the dementia care wing which is the most secure unit given that its residents are more advanced in their stages of dementia. The dementia care unit itself has been designed to have two parts that are connected by an outdoor area with tables and chairs where residents can have morning tea or do activities. There is also a lounge area, a courtyard and a garden. “We have holistic care incorporated with our dementia care,” Penny says. “That involves having open space and making it more homely.”

There is also a dedicated team of expert staff working with Riverview Gardens Aged Care Centre and a close affiliation with Ipswich Hospital which means that the nurse practitioner there knows the residents and she always comes to meet them should they require hospital care. “At the Centre, we have our nursing staff,” Penny says. “We also have the clinical staff. We have our RN’s (Registered Nurses), we have chaplains that visit, the physiotherapists and the volunteers. There are a lot of people who have input in their day-to-day life.”

Breakfast and daily activities tend to fill up the mornings at Riverview Gardens as well as staff-guided walks around the Centre for those in the dementia care unit. The staff have coined an aspect to the afternoon care, “Twilight.” “It’s more of a downtime,” Penny explains of the multi-sensory light that illuminates the ceiling. “It has little lights and flickering patterns, but it's a soothing song, musically, like soothing, relaxing music. So, this is a time for the residents that want to have a rest.” Penny also explains that Riverview Gardens Aged Care Centre has a therapy dog who visits the residents too.

Penny has done a substantial amount of training in dementia care; she’s completed online courses and courses outside of work to understand dementia. “I think that it's really helped me understand the residents with dementia a little bit better. And I think it's important to have people that understand what dementia is about, because it is a specific thing and you need to be a person who has a lot of patience,” she says. “I love being in the dementia unit, I find it very rewarding,” she says. “I find it very enjoyable to be with the residents even though they all have different stages of dementia. There's still an individual person, and they still have wants and needs. And I just think that if I can give them something to make them feel valued in the day then I feel that I've done something, and I've achieved my job.”