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2023 Sarah Cope Award and Lecture: UC student dedicated to dementia care

Emma Larouche

15 September 2023: University of Canberra second-year nursing student Mary-Kate Adhikari received this year’s COPE (Caring for Older People Excellence) Award for her empathy and advocacy in aged and home care, and a vision to share her skills, knowledge and attitude as a nurse educator.

Ms Adhikari was awarded $2,000 through the COPE Memorial Fund, an annual award which acknowledges an individual’s service to those in aged care. It was created in honour of the late Dr Sarah Cope, who was an Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Canberra, and who had a passion for improving aged and dementia care.

“Receiving this recognition has shown me that I’m heading in the right direction by pursuing something that is close to my heart,” Ms Adhikari said.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Education from the University in 2011 and went on to become a primary school teacher, with a focus on inclusive education.

Her career shifted in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she took on a role as a disability support worker. During that time, an encounter with a friend of someone she was caring for, fuelled her drive to advocate for older people.

“This woman was strong and feisty – and then one day she came back from the hospital and started talking about death,” Ms Adhikari said.

“She was talking about how she went to the doctor to get her hand checked and said, ‘the doctor told me, at my age, there's not much point doing anything’.

“That comment changed her whole outlook on life, and it was months before she had the confidence to go out and be herself again.”

Ms Adhikari enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing at the University; in addition to her full-time studies, she works at Warrigal’s residential care home in Queanbeyan, where she developed an interest in dementia care.

“There are many different types of dementia, and so many things to consider when interacting with older people living with this condition – the most important being that just because someone has an illness, doesn't mean they're less of a person. The illness doesn’t define them, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Ms Adhikari said.

Ms Adhikari plans to progress into a registered nurse role at Warrigal after she graduates, and is also interested in pursuing further study.

“I would love to learn more about dementia and work towards a postgraduate qualification to become a nurse educator, not only in an aged care setting, but across the healthcare sector, as older people are everywhere,” she said.

“Right now, working with older people in a home care setting – to support them and their loved ones – is deeply rewarding, and I enjoy knowing that I can help support them to remain in the home environment longer with the friends, family and support networks they depend on to feel at home and safe.”

The award will be presented during the 2023 Cope Memorial Lecture, 3pm – 5pm today. The 2023 Cope Memorial Lecture will be delivered by University of Canberra Adjunct Professor, Dr Rodney Jilek, who is a registered nurse and the Founder and Managing Director of Community Home Australia. The lecture is entitled “Taking aged care research and practice to the world”.

Read more about Dr Sarah Cope here: Tribute to a life driven by love: Dr Sarah Cope’s legacy.