TV3 weather presenter Mike Hall's comments at the Auckland Mayoral 'cuppa' - a fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Society.
I’m genuinely chuffed to be able to speak here today. That’s because Alzheimer’s Auckland is certainly not a high profile cause, but it’s one I’m coming to appreciate definitely needs and deserves a much higher profile due to the wide ranging impact the condition it supports has on the community. So anything tangible I can do for the wonderful people who run this charity is gladly given.
I say, “coming to appreciate the needs” for this cause, because my dear mum who’s still only in here sixties is now suffering from early stage dementia.
The thing that’s struck me about the time I’ve spent with mum in recent months is that dementia is so much more than the “celebrated” forgetfulness most people associate with the disease.
Its impacts permeate the everyday things. For example the cup of tea we’re enjoying here today – mum can no longer make herself one. The conversation we’re having with that cuppa and taking for granted that we can… mum can no longer converse. Mum can’t read, knit or even understand or watch TV anymore. Indeed, the impacts and changes are so far reaching that the challenge becomes what to do to create quality time when we’re with mum. That’s where the beauty of organisations like Alzheimer’s Auckland come in to play – but more on that in a minute.
Most of us here will have friends & family affected by cancer, and are aware of the huge toll that that takes. But if I can, by way of an analogy, make a quick comparison. Most early stage cancer sufferers, thankfully, can still be a fully functioning and independent member of their family and community. But many early stage dementia sufferers aren’t, because they can’t. By the same token if family members, as we found in mum's case, need to be moved into care, the impact of a change of surroundings is far greater for someone with dementia, than for someone without dementia.
So it’s certainly clear to see the effects of the disease on mum have been significant; but it’s equally so for the family, because ironically we can catalogue the impact of those changes far more acutely than mum can.
Given the landscape of challenges you can see dementia presents, the one little ladder within that landscape is Alzheimer’s Auckland - struggling in the face of the obstacles in its path. Helping families like ours put a label or context to the very sad and debilitating changes that mum’s undergone. Even sometimes to the extent (with personality changes) of teaching families that, no that’s not your mum (or loved one) – that’s the disease, and in doing so helping you to accept the person behind those changes – just like you always have.
Finally, some of the clever but simple and commonsense techniques that Alzheimer’s Auckland teaches families like ours to assist with spending more quality time with dementia sufferers is things like creating a rummage box. It’s a collection of keepsakes or mementos from mums past that literally offer a tangible connection with her and our past that stimulate communication when we’re together. Because even though we can’t converse, we can communicate in many, many different ways. And also the time-honoured catalyst of simply flicking through a photo album together – something we should all do together more often.
So in my short time of contact with Alzheimer’s Auckland, I’ve certainly come away with a far greater appreciation of the work that it does for families like ours. I really hope that my talk to you here today, helps you come to that appreciation as well.