Focused on supporting elderly
Alexandra is about as far as you can get from a Canadian Native Indian reserve and the slums of Jakarta in Indonesia. To Central Otago Age Concern’s new co-ordinator Grace Dykstra, the challenges are the same. It’s about keeping people connected with their community, and their community connected to them. From Christchurch originally, Ms Dykstra’s background as a social worker had taken her around the world, before she finally based herself in Dunedin. But she had always wanted to live and work in Central Otago. “When the job was advertised I saw it as an opportunity to come and put down roots.” Replacing previous co-ordinator Lysanne Sim, for the last six weeks she has been throwing herself into many activities including Age Concern initiative Senior Chef being introduced to Central Otago for the first time on October 15 at the Alexandra Senior Citizens rooms. Funded to run four times a year at various centres around New Zealand, the free course was attracting men over 60 who were suddenly finding that they had to cook for themselves or for their partner. But older women living on their own were also doing the course, to help them scale back to cooking and eating for one. Ms Dykstra’s new job has not been without challenges. She arrived in the weeks following the loss of Alexandra’s only taxi service, which had an immediate impact on the town’s aged nondriving population. Otago Age Concern chief executive Susan Davidson said it had been ”incredibly disappointing” to see the taxi firm close its doors, but hoped another business would see this an incentive to start a new Total Mobility Scheme to provide subsidised taxi services. “We understand that Central Otago is good on community support and people do look after each other but maybe it’s timely to be looking at a more formal transport service as a community initiative.” Ms Dykstra had also noted that community workers and volunteers were very good at incorporating the running of errands and doing drop offs and pick ups into home visits to elderly. However, she stressed “they’re not a taxi”. Elder abuse and neglect prevention was the hardest aspect of her job. Although Central Otago had only received a handful of referrals in the 18 months that a co-ordinator had been appointed, in Age Concern’s opinion this was still “six too many”. This sort of abuse was usually financial and happened within the family, but in rural communities it was hidden and mostly went unreported, Ms Dykstra said. What Ms Dykstra is most passionate about is supporting the elderly to live at home within their community for as long as possible, and encouraging them to be part of Age Concern’s Accredited Visiting Service. “It makes you feel wanted when someone comes to see you, to be able to make them a cuppa, so you can get to the kitchen table.” She also saw “taking the scary out of ageing” as a big part of her job.
At the helm: Central Otago Age Concern’s new co-ordinator Grace Dykstra outside Alexandra’s soon to be completed community centre in which she will have an office