Positive steps for dementia

Alzheimers New Zealand is organising 21 Memory Walks around the country to mark World Alzheimers Month.  We meet Wellington woman Rosemary Guerin who shares her inspiration for taking the walk.

Thousands of New Zealanders will gather in their town centres this weekend for the annual Alzheimers NZ Memory Walks. One of them is Rosemary Guerin, whose husband Paul has Alzheimer’s. “I’m looking forward to going on this walk,” says Rosemary. Her good friend will walk alongside her on the Wellington walk, this Saturday 19 September.

Rosemary Guerin

Rosemary sees the Memory Walk as one way for people to express solidarity – without the need to verbalise it. “You don’t have to be talking all the time. You don’t have to say how you feel,” says Rosemary. “Being with others who are going through the same issues as you and your loved one is just so supportive.”

Rosemary began her career as a teacher and school principal. Later, she worked her way up through the ranks before moving into other management roles. However, she took a step back from full-time work, reducing her work to fixed term contractual roles. “I had to stop work about three and a half years ago, because Paul couldn’t be left on his own,” says Rosemary.

Paul was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in June 2013, but had shown signs of it at intervals since 2006. “But in between times,” Rosemary says, “he would be his usual self.” Paul now lives in a rest home with a dedicated Dementia unit and highly trained staff, who provide specialised care for residents and also support family members.

Mother to five sons and grandmother of nine, Rosemary feels lucky to have the support of her family. Paul and Rosemary’s grandchildren have accepted that sometimes Grandad doesn’t remember who they are. “Or that sometimes Grandad says things that couldn’t possibly be right. And they just cope quite well with it.”

Raising awareness of dementia

The Memory Walks aim to help raise public awareness about dementia, and support the two out of every three New Zealanders whose lives are touched by dementia. Rosemary appreciates how important it is for people to have an understanding of dementia.

“We need to raise awareness – we need it very much. People with dementia are just living in the moment – and whatever world they are living in right now, you’ve really got to enter into that. And be there with them. Otherwise, you’re watching them. To be with them, you’ve got to enter into what the world they’re living right now.”

“So much more is being done today to keep people active in mind and body. And to care for the families,” says Rosemary. She is part of a support network for families that look out for each other. They take time to check in with each other after visits.

“You’ve got to talk! By talking to someone, having someone listen to you, you can go back feeling that you’re not on your own. You go back refreshed and feeling that you can cope with the next day, hour or week.”

It’s not just the tough stuff that carers, friends and families need to share, Rosemary points out. There are golden moments to share as well. “When you’ve had a good conversation, you need to share it with someone – to make those good moments last a bit longer.”

Alzheimers NZ’s Memory Walks are being held in 21 locations throughout New Zealand this September, with the majority happening this weekend.

Kerry leads the way

Kerry Prendergast

Leading the Wellington Walk this weekend will be former Mayor Kerry Prendergast in her new role as a Champion for Dementia.

Kerry has joined Colin Mathura-Jeffree and Reuben Thorne as high profile New Zealanders who are actively supporting Alzheimers New Zealand to raise awareness of demetia and promote wider understanding of its imapcts.

Kerry shared her moving story with Stuff Media.