Passionate . . . Debbie Melton (left) and Susie Sinclair offer a weekly class to help people with memory loss or cognitive decline. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Two North Otago women are doing what they can to help older residents deal with memory loss, or early-stage dementia.

Debbie Melton and Susie Sinclair have been running a free Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) class once a week since a successful pilot of the course ended in July 2020.

The pair had run the pilot for Alzheimer’s Otago, but were now working independently, Mrs Melton said.

She had 25 years’ experience working with people with cognitive impairment, and was also a qualified diversional therapist. Ms Sinclair had a background as a social worker and tutor, and also had extensive experience working with the elderly.

They were not paid to run the classes, but were ‘‘passionate’’ about what they did, Mrs Melton said.

CST aimed to improve cognitive function using techniques that exercised different parts of the brain. It was designed to promote and maintain thinking and memory, making it ideal for those in the early stages of dementia, or those who had suffered a brain injury or stroke.

About eight to 10 people a week participated in the classes, which included playing games, using creativity, reminiscing and social outings.

Activities were often led by the participants themselves, Ms Sinclair said.

‘‘We adapt to their needs. It comes from them.’’

The class was held at Ara Institute of Canterbury’s Oamaru Campus on Thursdays, from 10.45am to noon, and was available to anybody who thought they might benefit from it.

‘‘We don’t turn anybody away.’’

People were welcome to see how the classes were run, and if they were a good fit. There was no commitment required, she said.

They could either come on their own, or they might bring a family member they were concerned about.

A doctor referral was not necessary, but people could be referred.

Ms Sinclair and Mrs Melton ran the classes with the help of about five trained volunteers, who worked with the participants.

Jane Van Schreven was one of those volunteers. She had experience caring for an older person with dementia, and knew Ms Sinclair from when she had worked at Iona Home and Hospital.

Ms Van Schreven had recently stepped back from full-time work, and had asked if she could volunteer for the classes.

‘‘I love it not being regimented. It has a lovely looseness, but is also well thought out,’’ she said.

Ms Sinclair said students she tutored at the YMCA also volunteered.

‘‘It gives them confidence and self-esteem, and also respect with older people.’’

To find out more about the classes, contact Ms Sinclair on 021 448-602 or Mrs Melton on 027 465-1653.