“Golden Angels” spreading their wings: Translating a volunteer dementia and delirium program from hospitals to residential care

Published on: June 30, 2020

Many residential aged care facility (RACF) staff would like to focus on meeting the emotional needs of their residents but time and resourcing pressures mean that they are compelled to prioritise task-focused, physical care. Compounding this, people with dementia are at greater risk for loneliness, serious physical illness such as delirium, and having their attempts to express their unmet physical and emotional needs viewed as aggressive or inappropriate.

Hospitals, RACFs and consumers agree that individualised, person-centred care is desirable and recommended for people with dementia who are distressed. In hospitals, one way of addressing the challenge of improving person-centred care has been using volunteer support. The Volunteer Dementia and Delirium Care Program (VDDCP) trained volunteers in person-centred care techniques to assist older hospital patients with dementia or delirium. The volunteers became affectionately known as the “Golden Angels”.

This project will involve partners from health, RACFs, consumers and volunteer organisations in co-designing, implementing and evaluating an adapted version of the hospital VDDCP for RACFs.

Two facilities will recruit and train volunteers to provide care under this adapted program and two similar facilities will continue with care as usual and act as controls. Residents receiving volunteer care will be compared with those in control facilities to examine whether there is an improvement in levels of loneliness, depression, food and fluid intake, hospital admissions, falls, physical restraint, psychotropic medication use, and quality of life.

This research will also show if the VDDCP can be successfully adapted to RACFs, and how well it is accepted by residents, families and staff.

Meet The Team

Sue Kurrle is a geriatrician working in both northern Sydney and southern NSW. She holds the Curran Chair in Health Care of Older People in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney. She has had a long interest in dementia research and practice and led the NHMRC Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre from 2012 to 2019. She worked with all the team members on several projects within that Centre and this project continues that collaboration.

Consumer Elaine Todd has over two decades of experience working with a broad range of networks to advocate for people with dementia.

As a founding member of the Consumer Dementia Research Network (CDRN), and as a member of the NHMRC Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre (CDPC), she has applied her lived experience and expertise in dementia across numerous research projects.



Dr Katrina Anderson is a Clinical Psychologist and researcher with the Aged Care Evaluation Unit, Southern NSW Local Health District.

She has over a decade of experience in designing, conducting and overseeing research into clinical interventions with the aim of improving the lives of older people and their carers.



Annaliese Blair is a clinical research officer in rural NSW based in Southern NSW Local Health District.

Her research over the last 15 years has focused on both trialling new interventions and translating best practice into innovative and sustainable models of care in health services.


Cath Bateman is a Dementia Delirium Clinical Nurse Consultant with Southern NSW Local Health District who established and piloted the original Dementia Delirium Volunteer Program and is the author of the NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) VDDCP implementation and Training resource.

Cath, Annaliese, Katrina and Elaine, with Commonwealth Department of Health funding, established and evaluated the VDDCP in 7 acute hospitals in rural Australia. This project was part of a large body of work overseen by Sue through the NHMRC Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre.