'Everybody's Oma': Doco Showing a Lighter Side of Living with Dementia - Hope 103.2

‘Everybody’s Oma’: Doco Showing a Lighter Side of Living with Dementia

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day, a condition affecting almost half a million Australians. Jason van Genderen shares his family's story.

By Georgia FreeWednesday 21 Sep 2022Finding HopePodcastsReading Time: 3 minutes

When filmmaker Jason van Genderen and wife Megan became full-time carers for his mum Hendrika, “Oma” – after she had developed Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia – the family decided to share the ups and downs of this new dynamic on their socials, and inadvertently made Oma an international online star. 

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day – an opportunity to shine a light on a condition that affects almost half a million Australians – and Jason joined the Finding Hope podcast to share about Oma’s influence and the family’s hard but heartwarming adventures, made all the more challenging as a result of the pandemic.

Bringing Oma home

Hendrika van Genderen was a fiercely independent woman. She took great pride in her house and garden, enjoyed morning coffees and local cafes and meeting locals. However, when dementia began to set in, Hendrika began isolating herself and relying on family members to accompany her on errands. Having lost her husband to cancer several years beforehand, Jason knew the situation was untenable and so brought Hendrika home to live with him, Megan and their children.

Hendrika moved into a granny flat attached to the house, with an internal door – which afforded her privacy and independence while still being close to family.

However, when the COVID pandemic hit, Hendrika found it difficult to understand the concept of lockdown.

“It was an hourly conversation with Oma, as to why the front door was locked,” Jason said.

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“She couldn’t understand why we weren’t going to places.”

Going viral

To combat cabin fever, and to regain a sense of normalcy, Jason and Megan began recreating things from the outside world in their home – including supermarkets, clothes boutiques and hairdressers.

After filming these moments and uploading them to social media, Hendrika and Jason became viral sensations overnight – and soon had formed Oma’s Applesauce, a Facebook community of more than 100,000 people.

After realising that they had an opportunity to tell a mainstream story, Jason and Megan decided to make a documentary about Hendrika’s journey called Everybody’s Oma.

Debuting last month to a limited Australian cinema release, Everybody’s Oma has quickly gained industry attention – being nominated for an AACTA Award for Best Documentary.

Changing the conversation

At first, Hendrika was able to cook her own meals and take care of her space – but overtime, daily tasks became harder – which put more pressure on Jason and Megan.

“It’s a constant adjustment… learning to cope and understanding what you can do yourself and what you need external help with,” Jason said.

Eventually, Hendrika moved into an aged care facility, where she spent her final months. Jason is hoping that Everybody’s Oma will start a broader conversation around aged care in Australia – rallying around aged care workers and being a more proactive part of solving the aged care crisis.

“Our aged care workers are doing an incredible job under extremely challenging circumstances,” he said.

“We need to surround those people with love and hope and try and be a part of the solution, rather than constantly critiquing.”

“Remember the person that’s losing pieces of themselves doesn’t deserve to lose you in the process.”

Saying goodbye

After a long fight, Hendrika lost her battle with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia in February, this year. Jason hopes that by sharing his journey in caring for Hendrika more will understand the realities of caregiving and not turn away from families or friends walking a similar path.

“Remember the person that’s losing pieces of themselves doesn’t deserve to lose you in the process.”

Listen to Jason’s full conversation on Finding Hope in the player above.  

For more details on Everybody’s Oma, visit the website or follow Oma’s Applesauce on Facebook.

>For dementia support and resources, visit the Dementia Australia website.