Judy Southon Interview
Judy Southon has worked in two careers: teaching and project management. She was in business with her husband managing projects until he developed dementia around 2005. The timing is not clear because the symptoms are not easy to recognise.Her life changed dramatically when she became his caregiver for a few years at home, around the clock, and his advocate when she needed to place him into long-term care in 2008, until his death in 2011.Judy became an active volunteer, represented the Ontario Alzheimer’s Society in TV, radio and newspaper articles and spoke at their fundraising campaign events. She developed a passion for helping others understand how to engage with those with dementia and qualified in DementiAbility – the Montessori Way. She chairs the Home Advisory Committee at a long-term care home, and speaks to groups of families and volunteers.
IRENE: How did you come to be working in the field of dementia care?
JUDY: My husband experienced dementia around 2005, and passed away in 2011. I was his caregiver, both at home and after I placed him in a long-term care home. Now I want to share what I know.
IRENE: How are you raising awareness of dementia?
JUDY: At present I am a consultant providing education workshops for families and volunteers. I provide training using a Montessori-inspired approach. This is a non-pharmacological approach that considers a person’s needs, interests, skills and abilities and helps to alleviate behaviour issues.
IRENE: What is the most important reason for raising children’s awareness of dementia?
JUDY: Children need to be able to show their natural unconditional love and to understand how to communicate meaningfully, without being afraid or uncomfortable.
IRENE: What are your preferred resources for raising children’s awareness of dementia?
JUDY: I am not so involved with children in this area myself but I meet people who are. I love this book as a good working tool for them.
IRENE: Have you read my book The Forgetful Elephant? Do you plan to incorporate it in your work?
JUDY: Yes, I will show it to staff in the long term care home where I volunteer, as well as other homes which I visit. I will also take it with me to every talk and presentation I give, and let people know there is such a book available for them to use.
IRENE: How would you say we can educate young children about dementia?
JUDY: We can include them when visiting loved ones, and not try to shield them from the facts. We need to teach them effective ways of speaking with someone who has dementia. They need to be able to speak naturally, in ways that are appropriate to their level of ability. We need to help children understand what skills and abilities the person with dementia still has. Then we need to show children how to use those abilities to interact successfully. It’s important for children to know that love is the way.
IRENE: If you had a magic wand (and unlimited funds), how would you raise awareness of dementia in the community?
JUDY: Personally, I would volunteer my time and resources to speak to people in corporate businesses. Many have been touched by dementia, and approaching places where many people work would help to educate all. Also, I would expand my presence using social media to reach many more people. It’s a global issue.
IRENE: What sources of information and research about dementia do you follow?
JUDY: I keep in touch by chairing a committee in a long-term care home. I am also on the Inter-Home committee, and keep in the loop with what our government is doing (or not). I am on many distribution lists – for example Alzheimer’s Society. I regularly receive news about what’s happening locally. I have a large support network, many of whom know my interest and inform me when something new comes onto their radar. I am also connected with many individuals who work in the area of dementia care.
IRENE: Which person or organisation do you consider to be a world leader in dementia care?
JUDY: DementiAbility – the Montessori Way (see www.dementiability.com). This is the best person-centred training programme I know about. I am qualified in this way of using person-centred methods to engage with those who have dementia. It requires paying attention to the skills, abilities, needs and interests of the person with dementia, and modifying activities and daily routines as required, to match needs and abilities. I also apply my own personal experience. The fact that I was once a teacher helps me to engage and communicate.
IRENE: How can we work together to raise children’s awareness of dementia?
JUDY: We can stay in touch, refer each other where appropriate, share our expertise, and communicate what each of us is doing to enhance the quality of life for those with dementia. And we can get the children involved in what we do.
IRENE. Thank you for sharing your answers and your resources Judy. Good luck, and I look forward to our cooperation.