Dealing with Dementia Gracefully

There are more than 413,106 Australians living with dementia. Australia's population is 24.13 million. Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to reach 1,100,890 by 2056. Currently around 244 people each day are joining the population with dementia. Dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians contributing to 5.4% of all deaths in males and 10.6% of all deaths in females each year.

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As we live longer due to medical breakthroughs as demonstrated by the average life expectancy (82.45 in Australia, compared to 83.84 in Japan and 78.74 in the USA) and are able to see more, our quality of life seems to be diminishing in other aspects. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil describe notions of the Singularity, and yet, families living with dementia face every day complexities today. Is there a solution to this growing problem? Transhumanists will say, yes!

In 2008, I had an article in the Illawarra Mercury that caught the attention of a gentle man, Kenneth Lea. Kenneth lived in Thirroul and we spent some time together discussing how location technologies might help carers with loved ones suffering from dementia. I visited Diggers in Corrimal with Kenneth to meet his beautiful wife. Kenneth had done everything to help his wife enjoy the comforts of home before the disease progressed and it was no longer safe for her to be there. I was heavily pregnant with my second child that year, but with Kenneth's handwritten letters I was moved to learn more about his story. With his patience, I was catapulted into what seemed a foreign world. I got to meet other carers also. They helped to formulate the opinions I have today with respect to how technology can aid sufferers and carers alike. There is also the wonderful work of Lyn Phillipson and her team at the Centre for Health Initiatives (CHI) at the University of Wollongong that I have always respected.

Some months ago I had the immense joy of meeting Suzi Jowsey Fetherstone. Her mother Patricia's story of Alzheimer's Disease (a form of dementia) was documented by AttitudeLive in 2014. I watched this episode last week for the first time. I was moved by many things. This is what I want to share with you when I see you at U3A. After watching this documentary aptly titled "Together Apart" you will understand the title of my presentation "Dealing with Dementia Gracefully". Perhaps, there is nothing graceful about dementia as a  'disease'. But how we honour, understand and respect our loved ones when they regress at their end of life stage, if they fall victim to dementia or Alzheimer's Disease can be graceful. Suzi Jowsey, and her father Victor, tell their intimate story. It is a celebration of Patricia's life, then and now. At my U3A presentation we will watch this documentary together and then have an open discussion about what we learnt from it.