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Spotlight on Helga Merl

Although not born in Tasmania or Australia (Germany) I couldn’t be more pleased and proud to have joined the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre in July 2019.

As a passionate Nurse Practitioner, manager and academic, securing a position at the Wicking Dementia Centre and relocating from NSW to Tasmania with my husband and one eyed Shitzu is an exciting part of my five-year plan to change the world for people living with dementia.

My five-year plan to revolutionise dementia health and social care started some 17 years ago (it’s been a long five years). At this time I secured NSW (DADHC) funding to implement the first Dementia Advisory Service, and then the first Regional Dementia Planning Project; Primary Dementia Care Network; Nurse led Memory Clinics and Younger Onset Dementia Service for NSW (and Australia).

With much achieved after five years another five years was required to solve the challenges of dementia including early and timely diagnosis, behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia and end stage dementia. With my heart in community I stepped into director and senior clinical roles, developing multiple region-wide Dementia Strategic Plans including the Hunter New England and Central Coast Dementia Care Plan and Action plan 2011- 2015, integrated models of aged care and the Behaviour Assessment and Intervention Service (BASIS) within NSW health. I was the representative for the NSW Ministry of Health Dementia Clinical Nurse Consultants program and had a personal appointment to the NSW Dementia framework and implementation working group 2009 - 2014. I was chair and founder of Hunter Younger Onset Dementia working group and the Palliative Dementia Care working group.

My third five-year plan saw me step out of the Local Health Districts to work in and lead state wide and then nationwide clinical and aged care services such as the Dementia Comfort and Well-Being Model of Care and associated Dementia Comfort and Well-Being Program for Uniting NSW/ACT community and residential aged care and the national manager Clinical and Wellness Programs for Integrated Living Australia. Many grants for innovative services and awards were secured (including for intergenerational programs, Better Practice Awards for a therapeutic garden in a memory unit, nurse led memory clinics and memory wellness programs; chronic disease management framework, integrated telehealth and FIFO enabled models of care and finalist for the HESTA nurse of the year and team of the year).

At the end of 2017, I knocked on the door of my local university to enrol in a PhD so that I could disseminate my work in dementia care at a broader level and came out with a new career as an academic. At the University of Newcastle I convened the Associate Degree in Integrated Aged Care and the Master of Nurse Practitioner programs.

My values and goals resonate with those of the Wicking Dementia Centre where my role includes both research and teaching components. As a lecturer, I am honoured to be coordinating the health and social care education in the post graduate courses including the Master of Dementia.

My fourth five-year plan includes a commitment to providing an excellent learning experience and inspire excellence in students so that together we can change the world for people living with dementia. Each unit of the post graduate courses including the Master of Dementia enables students to understand the evidence base required for best practice and to submit an assessment task that is directly related to their context of dementia. Students who have completed the first semester have produced a range of submissions which are making a difference in their work places and communities. In the words of one student “Thank you for all the support during this unit, the learning and depth of knowledge imparted has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I feel so inspired and prepared to go forth and speak out with evidence and compassion”. (Leanne Shepard)

Some examples of submissions from first semester include:

  • Managing Dementia In A Community Primary Care Facility. Integrating A Specialised Dementia Clinic In A Primary Care Practice, submitted by a GP in Malaysia;
  • Guidelines for Aged and Community Care workforce: Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) perspectives required to provide a person-centred care and communicate effectively with people from CALD backgrounds living with dementia. Resource material to inform training on culturally appropriate care provision provided by the Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) SA;
  • Dementia in Prisons: Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) assessors Considerations for services inclusion in prisoner release plans; and
  • Stigma and Dementia Training Session Plan and Powtoon for Complaints Officers at the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission

The innovative online, Master of Dementia is open for enrolments to the global multidisciplinary team and professionals who wish to progress their understanding of dementia and make a difference. Go to for more information.