Dementia, a major issue for Australia!

“The certificate three (in aged care) does not provide any education around dementia,” Dementia Australia’s chief executive, Maree McCabe told the Royal Commission during a recent hearing.

According to the commission’s findings, less than half of Australia’s aged care workers have any dementia training, the Aged Care Royal Commission heard.

Does that mean over half of our aged care workers are lacking empathy for one of our largest social issues ––Dementia?

“This is the chronic condition of the 21st century, and it is also a social issue,” Ms McCabe said. “We need to know how to best support people living with it.”

McCabe also told the commissioner our care workers are lacking empathy. Is that a fair call?


Let’s explore this idea of empathy a bit more.

McCabe did further herself by saying it wasn’t because they don’t care. It’s not about ‘caring’, as such, McCabe says, it’s about, “the ability to stand in the world of somebody living with dementia.”

She’s, of course, talking about the almost impossible task of accessing empathy without actually knowing what a person is going through. Even carers with scores of compassion, can’t exercise true empathy without knowing what they’re dealing with.

And that’s about half of our current industry. Referring to Australian aged care workers whose only training has been a Certificate 3 in Aged Care. The Royal Commission heard that this is currently more than 50% of the industry.

Without the right, or any ––which is the case for the majority––education or training in the area of one of our most prominent conditions, Dementia, it’s near impossible for our Certificate 3 accredited aged care workers to recognise behaviour of a resident with Dementia, and further, empathise with human behind the behaviour and, furthermore, treat that person the way they deserve; despite being compassionate.

Some believe people are either born with compassion or without it. Some believe compassion can be acquired. Perhaps it’s true through experiencing certain things in life. For example, if you’ve seen a loved one suffer, you may be more inclined to feel compassion for a stranger suffering a similar thing.

Maybe, or maybe you’ll just empathise with them.


What’s the difference?

According to the scientist, James R. Doty, MD,

“Compassion is the recognition of another’s suffering and a desire to alleviate that suffering.”

Sounds about right, and a quality most people who go into the Health Care industry have in droves. So what is empathy?

Empathy, very simply put, is when you can feel the feelings. You relate, and you mirror the feelings of the subject you empathise with.

The Dalai Lama says, “Empathy is the most precious human quality.”


So, can you teach empathy?

According to science, empathy is something you’re born with. That everyone is born with. There’s still no scientific proof you have it fully developed from birth, however, a series of studies in 2011 at the University of Wisconsin, showed infants as young as 8months had already developed empathy for their mothers.

It is then thought that empathy is developed further through a series of experiences and relationships.

Kind of like when you get a puppy, all of a sudden you’re a dog person. And love all the dogs.

There are certain extremes too. Empaths, for example, are thought to have hyper-responsive mirror neurons, causing them to deeply resonate with other people’s feelings. In contrast, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists are thought to be empathy deficient. But they’re not born without it, it’s likely an early experience or trauma affected their development of empathy.

Research does lean toward better education and training would very likely give our industry a more empathetic approach to work. And reflective of that idea, perhaps we’d see less and fewer incidents of abuse or misappropriation of psychotropic medication like has been heavily reported in the Commission already. Who knows?

It’s definitely something worth more investigation. There’s a long way to go before we have it solved, and I’m definitely empathetic with the Commissioners job ahead!

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