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Deacon meets demands of dementia

Knowledge, empathy, community support, and a sense of humour are some of the keys to effective support for people affected by dementia, according to Methodist deacon Valma Hallam. Valma is senior field officer for the Alzheimers Society in Tauranga.

The Alzheimers Society provides a range of service, both to those diagnosed with Alzheimers disease (one form of dementia) and their families. They include memory training, activity clubs, companion sitting and befriending, carer support groups, and field officers who support and guide families in their own home.

“Knowledge empowers people to be better carers,” Valma says. “To work with someone with dementia you have to understand their world – a world where thinking, remembering, and reasoning are limited skills. Their reality and our reality are often quite different, and carers need to adjust to that reality.”

Deacons offer a community based ministry and Valma focused her ministry on people with dementia because she wanted to work in an area of loss. There is no greater loss than losing your ability function in everyday life, she says

When Valma began working with Alzheimer society in 1986 the Tauranga branch cared for about 50 people and she gave 10 hours of voluntary service a week. Now the society cares for more than 300 people and has two office staff and three field officers. Valma is now paid by the society to work for 30 hours a week.

Alzheimer society field officer visit people in their own home to offer ongoing support and initially to evaluate each situation and ensure they are getting all the support they are entitled to from government and other community agencies. Field officers work closely with health professionals and other support agencies.

“By monitoring each situation we hope to be able move people onto the next stage of care before a crisis develops. The field officer service has the advantage of flexibility. We can be available to families when they need us, in the doses they need us, which is not always possible for other social agencies.

In addition to her Alzheimers work Valma is a member of the ministry team at Wesley church and works with the pastoral care and community concerns committees. Her ministry has created strong ties between Wesley Church and the Tauranga Alzheimer society.

The Tauranga Alzheimer Society’s offices are at Wesley. The office building was constructed as a joint venture between the church and the society. Some of the congregation’s members are volunteer companion sitters or befrienders, some are activity club helpers, others are committee members, and some offer to help at one off tasks as they arise.

Despite the ties between Wesley Tauranga and the Alzheimer Society, Valma says the point of the ministry is not to “put bottoms on seats in the church” but to see people better able to manage their situation. She gives a service in an area of need in the community. People of faith and those who do not profess to have a faith work together for this cause.

Alzheimers New Zealand

Throughout the country Alzheimers NZ has 23 member organisations. The support they provide to dementia sufferers and their families includes:

  • Memory groups for the person with the disease.
  • Support group meetings for carers.
  • Visits from trained field officer or community support worker to give practical advice and information about other services.
  • Carer’s education programmes and meetings.
  • Sitter services and in some areas day-care.
  • Advocate on your behalf or inform you about your rights.

For more information call 04 381 2362 or visit