The Rainbow Connections project, led by Institute for Health Transformation member Dr Louisa Smith, will see project volunteers of the national Community Visitors Scheme, LGBT+ people with dementia and other stakeholders co-design resources to assist volunteers in connecting and engaging with socially isolated LGBT+ people with dementia.

The Community Visitors Scheme is a national program that sees volunteers make regular visits to socially isolated people throughout Australia.

The program aims to provide companionship to socially isolated older people, particularly those at a high risk of experiencing social isolation, such as LGBT+ people or people living in regional and rural areas.

“The volunteers I’ve met invest a lot of energy and time in the visits. They definitely feel like the visits are reciprocal, they get a lot out of it too. But if the person they are visiting develops dementia, volunteers are often unsure about how to maintain those connections,” Dr Smith said.

LGBT+ people with dementia have diverse and complex needs. Previous research has shown that they often do not have families or networks they can rely on and are likely to avoid using health or aged care services due to prior negative experiences accessing these services.

Dementia may also change the way a person is able to communicate and connect. For many people with dementia, using formal means of communicating, such as talking, can prove restrictive or may not be possible.

“We need to find diverse and multisensory ways of communicating,” Dr Smith said.

“This project is about working with those volunteers to come up with a range of resources and supports that can help them to maintain connections with LGBT+ people with dementia so that they can continue to really affirm their gender and sexuality identities, and most importantly continue to visit them.

“Particularly in places where those identities might be not affirmed at all, such as residential aged care environments.”

Angie Kocsisek, coordinator of home-based care for older LGBT+ people at ACON, a partner in the project, said that the COVID19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of using creative ways to connect with and provide social support for people with dementia.

“I am very excited for what will unfold. The creation of resources will be invaluable to so many community visitors both in recruitment and retainment processes,” she said.