DY Suharya - My Work is a Thank You to My Mom




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Nov 30, 2017
by Mirva Villa
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DY Suharya - My Work is a Thank You to My Mom

Founder of Alzheimer Indonesia discusses her career path and hopes for the session DY, pictured above, has more than 20 years of experience in public health, public private partnerships and communication

“Soulful calling.” That’s how DY Suharya describes her work in raising awareness on dementia and working toward improving the quality of life of people with dementia and their caregivers. She is the founder of Alzheimer Indonesia, and the regional director of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) Asia Pacific Region, overseeing 17 countries.

“I have this lifetime commitment to share with people, especially in the Asia Pacific, how you deal with it, how you prevent, reduce your risk, and how you empower, equip and provide support for people with dementia and caregivers, and advocate for person-centered care,” says Suharya. She raises the point while speaking at the Salzburg Global Seminar session, Changing Minds: Innovations in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities.

The Asia Pacific countries are diverse, but there are some commonalities in terms of challenges with dementia care. One of the biggest challenges is providing support for people with dementia and their caregivers, which Alzheimer’s Disease International is trying to solve through Dementia Care skills training modules, supported by Master Trainers from Alzheimer’s Disease Association Singapore and other ADI members. The program gives local carers tools with which to provide high quality care.

“If you ask me about challenges, these countries are in a very different place in terms of where they are, and what they need varies. But one thing for sure is they need a pool of talent or a pool of experts or trainers.”

Suharya’s mother has been the inspiration behind her work. She was diagnosed with dementia in 2009, but now Suharya knows that her mother was displaying typical symptoms long before that without anyone realizing it. It caused a lot of tension between Suharya and her mother. “We had our arguments in the past because I did not know what’s going on in her brain.”

It drove her to look for work opportunities abroad, so she wouldn’t have to spend time at home. She ended up working as a journalist, and later as a public health communication consultant for organizations like the World Bank, WHO and UNICEF. She says, “I did everything that would take me away from Indonesia.”

One day, she received a call from her father, informing Suharya of her mother’s diagnosis. In 2012, she decided to come back home after 15 years of living abroad, gathered together her friends and asked them for help in setting up Alzheimer Indonesia, which launched in 2013, on her mother’s birthday. Campaigning to raise awareness of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s has remained a prominent part of her work.

Suharya’s mother passed away six months ago, but her legacy continues in her work. “If not for my mom, I wouldn’t be here. It’s a thank you to her. Because of my experience, I feel like I can activate people’s highest potential, because my potentials were activated through my mom and inspired through the journey of caring for her with the support of my dad and siblings.”

In four years, Alzheimer Indonesia has grown in size and stature. This has included a comic book launch, film festival and choir concert being some of the highlights. There are now support groups in 21 cities in Indonesia, a WhatsApp support group and more than 1,000 volunteers. “Everything I dreamed of four years ago,” remarks Suharya.

The newest campaign, called “Love Your Parents,” wants to remind young people to be understanding toward the struggles their parents with dementia might have, to respect their parents and spend quality time with them.

“You cannot raise your voice to a person with dementia. You cannot make the same mistakes that I did. You cannot be angry because you’re accompanying your parents to a bank, and they don’t know where their ATM card is or how to use the telephone.”

Suharya describes herself as a big believer in collaboration and partnerships. As the session progresses, she hopes to see some of the discussion and initial plans held during the session realizing themselves in the future. She says, “I’m expecting a concrete collaboration that works as a platform to people who share similar goals – whatever they are good at. I like to connect people, and I like to make things happen."

The session, Changing Minds: Innovations in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities, is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and The Mayo Clinic, with support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Tsao Foundation, and the University of Texas.