One of the last things Gerry Third said to his daughter was, “promise me you’ll do something to help people like me living with dementia.”
Now two years on, Westpac Executive Private Advisor Lorraine Hunter has fulfilled this promise to her father, who passed away from the illness, spearheading the first dementia friendly bank initiative in New Zealand.
She’s also passionate about bringing awareness and championing other corporates and Kiwi businesses to get on board as well.
With 60,000 Kiwis living with dementia and this expected to grow to over 150,000 by 2050, the area of banking is an important issue which Lorraine says needs to be addressed.
“Westpac has been dementia friendly for a year now and we’re seeing amazing results with our frontline staff interactions with customers living with the illness as well as an overall awareness and sensitivity with our staff which is helpful for everyone.”
Born in Dundee, Scotland, Lorraine’s father worked as a carpenter in London at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre and on the QEII.
She says it was a massive shock when he was diagnosed with the illness at the age of 64.
“Initially we thought the doctor had made a mistake – how could dad have Alzheimer’s – isn’t that an old person’s disease? He’s only 64! My sister Wendy and I knew nothing about the disease, it was a stressful time for us all while trying our best to support our dad - me from afar living in New Zealand. We became fiercely protective of him, even with each other.”
Lorraine says one of the beginning symptoms was a general loss of confidence.
“It was almost like he was depressed, he had been really social but started to withdraw from friends and family. It was also forgetfulness - always losing things and being late for appointments.”
It then crept into other parts of his world.
“His spatial awareness began to get affected, especially when driving and he wouldn’t stop at roundabouts. He had lots of dents in his car and near misses with lorries.”
She says about six months after his diagnosis it was obvious he needed help with his banking.
“He would remember his PIN but would leave his card in the machine, take out more cash than he needed and generally getting muddled with money all the time.”
Knowing that his daughter worked in banking, before Gerry died at the age of 68 he asked Lorraine to promise she’d make a difference.
“For me it means that something really positive has come out of a particularly dire situation – he would be really proud.”
What does being a dementia friendly bank mean?
In 2015, Westpac formed a dementia friendly working group to take a holistic approach looking at all areas of the banking system.
Since its inception, the team has helped implement a specialised frontline training programme, a specifically designed in-branch notification system, and changes to the physical branch environment.
The notification system is attached to a customer’s account and brings up specific details which have been inputted into the system to notify the customer consultant when interacting with them. Signing up is completely voluntary.
Since November 2015, more than 720 customers have told Westpac they have a specific vulnerability like dementia and are in the notification system.
98% of frontline staff have been trained in dementia awareness, its symptoms and sensitivity when interacting with customers.
All educational materials is now publically available on the Westpac website (westpac.co.nz/dementia) to ensure as many people and organisations as possible have free and ready access to dementia friendly education.
Westpac is one of three organisations piloting a dementia-friendly accreditation by Alzheimers New Zealand. This specifically involves ensuring our staff are trained to understand the illness and that our branch environment is easy to navigate for those living with the illness. This includes ensuring our flooring, lighting, marketing materials and provision of quiet spaces has been considered for our customers with vulnerabilities like dementia.
Lorraine says it’s important for people living with dementia or caring for someone with dementia to know that they don’t need to go through this alone.
“Come and talk to us, we can give you some practical advice with your banking along with extra care and attention as the illness progresses.”
For more information, visit westpac.co.nz/dementia.