Japanese volunteers show care for dementia patients has no barriers

A volunteer program joining Japanese workers with Wheatbelt dementia patients is showing that despite speaking different languages, care has no barriers.

Japanese occupational therapist Koki Ishino quit his job to take up an eight-week volunteer position with Baptistcare Dryandra Residential Care in Kellerberrin.

Koki is participating in the Win Win Culture Exchange Program, an extraordinary scheme which brings young Japanese and Australian seniors living with dementia together.

It’s the brainchild of Baptistcare Dryandra lifestyle coordinator Shizuka Yokoi who herself moved to Perth from Japan in 2014 and began volunteering at Baptistcare Gracewood Residential Care in Salter Point.

Like Koki, the qualified occupational therapist had limited English skills when she started volunteering which made it incredibly challenging to spend even a few hours a day in a new environment.

“But the residents, especially those with dementia, accepted me by showing love and kindness, and Baptistcare Gracewood began to feel more home than the Perth share-house I was living in," Ms Yokoi said.

“I realised those residents, like me, were finding it difficult to communicate verbally and for them the social interaction was much more important than speaking."

Ms Yokoi’s experience was the catalyst for her to establish Win Win and the results have been amazing.

‘The volunteers spend time with individual residents doing activities the resident is known to enjoy,” she said.

“It could be singing, dancing, crafts, playing games or exercising, but the result is the resident’s emotional wellbeing is improved and their daily life is enriched.”

Since Win Win commenced in 2015, 15 people have travelled from Japan to participate in the scheme and learn English in a real-life setting.