Hidden monster dementia is sneaking up on our nation

Border Mail Column Wednesday 15 August 2012

Supermarkets are interesting places.

There are those who only go there through necessity while I may be strange, but it often gives me the opportunity to catch up with people I have not seen for a while, and that was the case earlier this week.

Through business channels I have known this person for about 20 years, but whenever we meet we have a very warm and animated talk not only about business, but also about our families.

We chatted next to the onions and the ginger about this and that, and he mentioned that he was now on his own: his wife, he said, had gone.

I took this to mean that his wife had died, but as our chat continued, it became evident that was not the case and that his wife has dementia and is in care.

I could tell that this situation had broken his heart, but he had his own health issues and doctors advised that it was too dangerous for them for her to stay in their home.

My own experience of the effects of dementia is limited to memories of my grandmother visiting us and wandering off to post a letter, and my brother and his friends searching for her and later finding her safe and unaware of the worry she had caused.

I remember too a later conversation with her as she lay in her hospital bed about my firstborn and one of her many great grandchildren.

When I said goodbye I mentioned the need to get back to my own baby.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I have to go home to the babies too.’

I remembered her standing at the gate waving a white hankie each time we left to return home after a holiday.

My parents died of physical illnesses before dementia could take hold.

I cannot imagine how I would have coped if their sharp minds had succumbed to this disease.

It may seem a strange thing to say, but a physical illness is almost easier to cope with because it can more easily be detected, defined and explained.

On Friday after a meeting of federal and state health ministers, dementia was added to the list of national health priority areas after cardiovascular health, cancer control, injury prevention and control, mental health, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions and obesity.

Addressing the meeting, Federal Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler, explained that in less than four years, dementia is predicted to be the leading cause of disability.

He also told the meeting  280,000 Australians currently live with dementia and by 2050 that figure will rise to more than one million. Spending on dementia beyond 2060 is set to outstrip that of any health condition.

I follow the news very closely, but cannot recall seeing or hearing this announcement when it was made on Friday – perhaps it was lost in all of the excitement of the Olympics.

On Monday night on Q & A and in the context of a discussion about euthanasia, the minister said there was a need for advanced care planning for the ageing population.

To date this planning has included  40 forums attended by 4,000 people who made it clear that dying with dignity and dying well were priorities.

For the past 10 days, The Border Mail has done a sterling job in bringing the issue of suicide to the fore and encouraging people to bring the subject out into the open.

However, if the projections are right, there needs to be the same discussion about dementia and its growing impact on the community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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