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'I know Dad's in the best place possible.'

When Karen Nickson leaves her desk at 3pm every Tuesday and Thursday all her colleagues at the bank know exactly where she’s going.

“I’ll say ‘I’m off for a wine at Hilda Ross!” she laughs. “And they’re always keen to hear about all the interesting stories the next day.”

Karen visits her dad Colin several times a week in the special care unit of Hilda Ross Retirement Village, his home since April last year.

While life has now settled into a good routine, Karen is the first to admit the journey to this point has been hard.

Life turned upside down for the whole family when Karen’s mum Lynette became very unwell early in 2017, and died within just a few weeks from cancer.

It meant some hard decisions had to be made on behalf of Colin who had suddenly lost not only his wife but his primary caregiver.

The family knew Colin had dementia and couldn’t continue to live alone in Papamoa, but they initially underestimated the impact such a huge upheaval would have on him.

“The shock of the change in his life affected him really badly. Within a short space of time he went from being able to shower himself and get dressed to not being able to do those things.

“I was a little bit in denial too and fought what the experts were saying,” she says.

What followed was a crash course in what the various dementia care facilities in Hamilton had to offer and Karen says while the beautiful aesthetics of Hilda Ross immediately drew her in it was the care provided that stood out.

“We were worried that Dad was going to be lonely because he’s the sort of person who likes company and I felt like there was more engagement for him here.

“The activities programme has been the thing that impressed me the most. What really blew me away was how much they engage the residents in stuff that’s going on outside these doors, so if it’s Melbourne Cup Day the ladies will wear their fascinators and the staff build it into their programme for the crafts they do and they all make a special effort to help them enjoy normal life.”

Karen was also touched by the staff’s caring manner and how they gently encourage the residents to get involved.

“There’s Eric for instance, his whole demeanour as a person just oozes this sense of caring and genuineness and he’s so passionate about his work, he calls them ‘my beloved residents’, they’re not patients. That really reached my heart quite a lot.”

Karen is open about the fact that there is nothing easy about leaving a relative in a locked facility.

“I was really struggling and had a real sense of guilt.

“When you’re faced with the reality of putting a loved one in dementia care it means coming to terms with that and accepting that we’ve got him in the best place possible and I’m confident we have.

“He’s getting the medical care he needs, he’s being treated respectfully, and he’s got no shortage of food!” she adds with a laugh.

Karen says she has become somewhat of an advocate for dementia awareness and recommends that anyone with a family member who has dementia starts having a conversation about care sooner rather than later.

“I heard that particularly if it’s a spouse looking after them they often leave it until it’s really desperate. But the assessment process can take time so it’s better not to be in a situation where you’re rushed.”

As Colin has settled in, Karen has grown more accepting and can delight in the simple joys of time with her Dad.

“One of the things I’ve learned is you just live in the moment.

“We go outside for a walk around the garden just enough to get some fresh air and then I say ‘if we’re lucky we might have a wine!’

“Him and Mum used to sit around at 4-5pm and have a wine so that’s our routine now.”

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