Cross-cultural journey brings fresh perspectives to dementia care

Published 28 November 2011

saudiMohammed Alshammari provides practical help to his fellow Saudi Arabian students at the University of New England while conducting research that he hopes will contribute to health care in Australia.

Mr Alshammari, a Registered Nurse, is developing a model of family-based dementia care.

While working towards that goal in his PhD program at UNE, he acts as the local student representative of the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, helping other Saudi students sort out any visa or enrolment problems that might arise, and organising cultural events such as the celebration of Muslim festivals.

In this latter role he organised the recent visit to UNE of the Saudi Arabian Cultural Attaché, Dr Ali Mohammed Albishri. That event was part of the Cultural Mission’s schedule of annual visits to the many Australian universities that attract students from Saudi Arabia – most of them studying with the help of King Abdullah Scholarships. Dr Albishri met many of the 165 Saudi Arabian students currently studying on the UNE campus, as well as senior management staff of the University.

The students, together with their accompanying family members, comprise a Saudi Arabian population of 240 in Armidale. At the most recent Eid festival, Mr Alshammari cooked for a gathering of about 270 people, including members of the wider Armidale community – a community he’s getting to know from the inside through his work as a nurse at Armidale Hospital.

Mohammed Alshammari says he was “just a random guy” when he came to Australia with nothing eight years ago. Since then he has gained a Bachelor of Nursing degree from the University of Southern Queensland, married his Saudi Arabian wife and become the father of two boys, worked as a nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital, Toowoomba, and is now a doctoral research student at UNE.

One of the things that surprised him about Australian society, he says, was the prominent role of nursing homes in the care of elderly people – including those suffering from dementia. “This was quite a contrast to the situation in Saudi Arabia,” he said, “where, in Riyadh, for example – a city of seven million people – there is only one nursing home.”

“I grew up in a community where it was mandatory for families to look after their elderly parents,” he said, “and, with that background experience, I’m now looking at how people here could reduce the ‘family burden’ of dementia care while continuing to look after demented family members at home.”

Altogether, his move to Australia has turned into quite a journey for this no-longer “random” guy – a journey he’s planning to write a book about one day.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Mohammed Alshammari (left) and Dr Ali Mohammed Albishri during Dr Albishri’s recent visit to UNE.