Canberra banks aim to become dementia friendly

Wednesday, 20th September, 2017

Kambah dementia sufferer Gary Pertzel (pictured with wife and carer Sally) navigates the scary world of banking. Photo: Karleen Minney

Just a few years ago, Gary Pertzel was a businessman managing multi-million dollar assets.

But today, simply using an ATM can be one of his most challenging daily tasks.

The 63-year-old was diagnosed with dementia in 2015 and is one of about 5000 people in the ACT living with the condition.

Gary's wife and carer Sally said small changes in businesses and public places could make life a lot easier for dementia sufferers and their carers.

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Beyond Bank state manager Chris Blight and Interim CEO Alzheimers Australasia ACT Rebecca Vassarotti work together to make systems that address the difficulties people with dementia face. Photo: Karleen Minney

"Gary gets really frustrated sometimes because he can't remember his pin number, date of birth and that sort of thing," she said.

"For him that's ok because I'm generally with him and we can work through it ... but there are a lot of people living with dementia who don't have a carer around and for them I can imagine it would be extremely frustrating and really, really tricky."

Alzheimer's Australia has begun rolling out "dementia-friendly" banks with a pilot program beginning in Beyond Bank branches across Canberra.

The national first program addresses one of the main difficulties people with dementia face - dealing with money.

So far the bank has began making changes to its physical environment, considering things like colours, lighting, signing and even the type of fonts it uses to make the branch environment less intimidating.

Staff will receive special training to learn about the various obstacles dementia sufferers face when doing their daily banking.

Beyond Bank state manager Chris Blight said they wanted to make it easier for people with dementia to stay independent.

"We're working towards having really clean spaces and that welcoming personal tailored solution to help them access their funds," he said.

Alzheimer's Australia ACT interim CEO Rebecca Vassarotti said organisations and businesses could help people with dementia continue to live full lives.

"For us it's really about people understanding that just because someone has dementia they're still able to be a normal part of the community," she said.

"They're still people with a sense of humour, with feelings it's really just about having some understanding and being able to work with people."

Mrs Pertzel said it was important for people with dementia to stay as independent and active as their condition allowed.

"It's hard watching the person that you love lose all those capabilities they had when they didn't have dementia," she said.

"Gary led a really high impact business career, dealing with millions of dollars in different arenas, running a super fund and things like that and now he has trouble using an ATM.

"But for most of the time we do all sorts of things, we still go out to dinner, we still go to movies, we still go on holidays, life doesn't end with the diagnosis.

"But you just have to modify how you do things and slow everything down just that little bit."

"I just think the fact there are more businesses where their staff are trained in understanding what it's like for dementia sufferers is a huge leap forward."

Canberra Times

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