For all who work with people with dementia

Professor Richard Fleming retires from Dementia Training Australia

After three years leading Dementia Training Australia (DTA), Professor Richard Fleming (pictured) has stepped down as Executive Director to pursue other interests, including environmental design consultancy work and research.

Professor Fleming is an environmental design expert and psychologist and has been involved in the development of services for people with dementia for almost 40 years. He began his clinical career in England’s first Community Psychology Service. In the 1980s he played a major role in the deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric services in NSW, before establishing the HammondCare Dementia Services Development Centre, helping pioneer new approaches in development and delivery of residential services for people living with dementia.

He was appointed a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in 2010 and was Executive Director of the NSW/ACT Dementia Training Study Centre (DTSC) from 2010-2016, during which time he established the Australian Journal of Dementia Care with the then publishers of the UK Journal of Dementia Care. Professor Fleming was Executive Director of DTA from its establishment in 2016 until the end of June 2019.

“My decision to retire from DTA wasn’t easy, but I’m looking forward to spending the next few months investigating the rumour that there are things to do outside of work and considering how best to continue making a contribution,” Professor Fleming said.

He said his departure was made easier by knowing that DTA is now in the capable care of its new Executive Director Professor Belinda Goodenough, who worked with him on the development of the NSW/ACT DTSC and DTA.

Professor Fleming said he was pleased to have the opportunity to continue his research in environmental design within UOW as an Honorary Professorial Fellow, as well as his work with the Safe and Just Futures for People Living with Dementia in Residential Aged Care research project, alongside Dr Linda Steele, Dr Lyn Phillipson and Kate Swaffer. The project is investigating the impact of restrictive design in residential facilities on the quality of life of people with dementia.

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Rewarding challenge

Professor Fleming said the work of establishing and building DTA had been an immense but rewarding challenge and he wanted to acknowledge the dedication, enthusiasm and expertise of the DTA teams who had achieved so much, in such a short time. “It has been an absolute privilege to have worked with such talented and passionate people,” he said.

DTA is a consortium of four universities (UOW, QUT, University of WA, La Trobe University) and Dementia Australia, that develops evidence-based training content for the dementia care workforce.

Professor Richard Fleming and architect Kirsty Bennett receiving the Older Person’s Mental Health Award in 2016 for DTA’s Designing for People with Dementia (DPD) Environmental Design Education Service

DPD success

Professor Fleming said a highlight of his career was his work in environmental design and developing DTA’s Designing for People with Dementia (DPD) Environmental Design Education Service, which was recognised with an Older Person’s Mental Health Award in 2016. Professor Fleming and architect Kirsty Bennett (pictured) created the service within the former NSW/ACT DTSC before it became a major activity of DTA.

“The DPD service has led to real improvements in understanding how the environment can be used as a tool for enhancing the quality of life and minimising the responsive behaviours of people with dementia,” Professor Fleming said.

He was extremely proud of the fact that the DPD’s Environmental Design Resource Handbook has been listed as the primary reference for Standard 5 in the new Aged Care Quality Standards. The handbook describes the application of 10 key design principles in environments for people living with dementia, which were developed by Professor Fleming and Ms Bennett.

Positive signs

Professor Fleming said the introduction of the new Standards was just one of many positive things happening in Australia’s aged care industry at the moment. “The new Aged Care Quality Standards will really demand a new approach from the aged care sector in the way in which care is delivered. Then there’s the Aged Care Royal Commission and the recent Aged Care Workforce Taskforce. There are clear signs that many good things are happening and that there are many good operators and good staff who are striving to do their best.

“However, we have to continue to ask ourselves some hard questions – are we still valuing older people as much as we should, are we putting the resources they need into services? Above all, we must continue to promote positive experiences, meaning and a sense of belonging as an essential part of the experience of living with dementia,” Professor Fleming said.

“Providing opportunities to find meaning is where the work we can do with people with dementia can be most profound. Change is possible when we are willing to see beyond risk and problems to focus on finding moments of happiness, hope and wellbeing.

“People experience a meaningful life when they feel valued, when they look forward to getting up in the morning and getting on with things, and when they can put their lives into a broader context or see it as part of a bigger picture.”