After moving into their independent living apartment at Uniting Bowden Brae on Sydney's upper north shore four months ago, Robyn Richardson remarks that she and husband Keith are “the new kids on the block”.
She says, “Keith has a form of Alzheimer’s known as Lewy body dementia and, although the changes we’ve been through over the last 18 months have been challenging, living in this environment has been good for him.”
The couple have had more than their share of unrest, having moved twice – the first time from their family home into a rental apartment, and from there into retirement living.
“For someone with dementia, adjusting to new routines is always hard,” Robyn says, and adds that settling into a new environment can be a tricky process.
“The very first day we moved into our previous accommodation there was an emergency trip to hospital after Keith sustained an injury,” she says. An eight day hospital stay followed that required Robyn to be constantly at his side.
Providing support for couples with differing needs
Bowden Brae’s final stage opened in 2021 and has since won several industry awards for its innovative design and forward-thinking approach to healthy retirement living.
These have included winner of the Urban Developer Awards for Industry Excellence for Best Retirement, Aged Care and Seniors Living Development 2022, and winner of the Urban Taskforce Australia Awards for Best Seniors Living Development 2022. Being shortlisted as a finalist in the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) Awards for Excellence in Retirement Living was another impressive achievement.
At Bowden Brae, Keith is now living comfortably under the care of a GP, psychologist and the community’s specialised Assisted Living services.
The fact that they’re now in a purpose-designed seniors apartment has also made things considerably smoother for the Richardsons.
Robyn loves to take advantage of all the wonderful facilities Bowden Brae has to offer – she exercises regularly at the seniors gym and swims every morning in the pool while looking out to the beautiful landscaped gardens.
Being able to spend time on activities like these is a great joy, and having the freedom to go out when necessary knowing that Keith will be supported has improved her sense of security and confidence.
It’s clear that her optimism is contagious. “I’ve said to Keith, if my love and joy of being here can affect you, I know you’ll be happy. I’ve got more than enough to spare!”
Talking to Robyn, it’s also clear she’s a bright spark. A former librarian, she talks about how continuing to live with Keith (an ex-CSIRO scientist) is such an important part of their lives. ”He has a very brilliant mind even now, although it’s a little clouded. In fact, because his condition progresses slowly, people talking with him often have no idea that he has dementia.”
New found confidence for Keith
And then, of course, there’s Carmen.
“Carmen is a blessing to us all,” Robyn exclaims about the lovely member of the Assisted Living team who has come into their lives and now supports the couple on a regular basis.
“She’s someone who’s very, very friendly and easy to get along with. She’s gregarious and people like her,” Robyn adds.
Carmen started helping the Richardsons on a fortnightly basis, coming to their apartment to spend time with Keith, take him on an outing, or go to the café.
Eventually, Carmen and Keith’s get togethers sparked an idea which snowballed. “Carmen was prompted, from first being acquainted with Keith, to start a men’s group,” says Robyn.
“Initially, if Keith stayed in the apartment, he would often sit and doze off. That’s why Carmen wanted to get him out and doing something more active. And the men’s group evolved out of that.”
From its small start in the Bowden Brae café, the group has grown to the point where there are now 15 residents coming together regularly for talks and companionship. “The group meets every Thursday and Keith was the catalyst for that. And now they’re in the clubroom because they’ve outgrown the café.” Robyn says proudly.
“Keith would get along with anybody, he’s a lovely and gentle man,” Robyn says. “He needs the stimulation that he gets from socialising and that’s where the group has been so valuable.”
And Robyn believes Keith’s new confidence has had a flow on effect.
“The other activities here at Bowden Brae are great,” she says. “Each Monday there’s something going on in the clubroom for everyone. Yesterday it was indoor carpet bowls and Keith was excited to have won a game. It’s giving him the confidence to see that he can be here with people and not be left aside.”
A full range of Assisted Living services
The type of support provided to the Richardsons is just one of the many Assisted Living services available at Uniting’s retirement communities in both Bowden Brae at Normanhurst and Park Meadows at Westmead.
Julie Hancock, Uniting’s Assisted Living Lead, says that services are available to all residents in the village through the “Freedom Club.” Whether it's lunch in the club room once in a while, some cleaning or daily personal support, her caring team are on hand to help. The strong demand for services is clear with a large number of residents enjoying help when they need it most.
“For some it is an insurance policy for the future – many people say they ‘don’t need it now’ but they feel safe knowing it's there when they do need it,” she says. “For others it is essential, and a way of continuing to live independently, or to stay living with their loved one for longer.”
Services provided by onsite staff include meals (delivered to apartments or shared in the clubroom); cleaning; personal care (such as showering or dressing); transport; social support and shopping or just having someone to talk to. Nursing and allied health services such as a dietician and occupational therapist are also available.
Having village-based staff is a major point of difference
“Having staff who work only in the village means residents see a familiar face every time, creating a trusting relationship where they feel comfortable, which is particularly important if they have dementia, and routine and familiarity are key,” Hancock says.
More than just a safety net, Hancock believes that Assisted Living provides a framework of support which is “woven into the village environment.”
“Assisted Living brings community,” she says. ”Dining together provides more than nutrition – it is company, a reason to get up and dressed and a welfare check.”
Apartments for life
Bowden Brae’s design and services offer residents "apartments for life" where they can comfortably age in place.
Especially when combined with Assisted Living services, residents have access to a happy medium between independent living and aged care, and can remain self-sufficient for longer without compromising.
To learn more, book an apartment tour or secure a place at Bowden Brae click here.