Imagine if you thought your child moved interstate and no one bothered to tell you.
That’s what Kris from Newcastle thinks, even though every day her daughter Alix patiently reminds her why she’s moved to Perth.
As Kris’ memory worsens, her family struggles to ease her distress and confusion. Dementia is just so challenging: they can’t do this alone.
Dementia changes families – but it doesn’t have to tear lives apart.
At 35, Kris was a doting mother to Alix, Brock, Jorden and Serriah. She had a job she loved in the disability sector, coached Alix in netball, and enjoyed reading romance novels.
However, Alix, who was 14, had noticed her Mum was starting to do “weird stuff”. She would forget how to use the washing machine. She’d drop Alix at the wrong school. Her worried family urged Kris to see her GP, who organised some tests.
Soon after, Mum and Nan sat me down. Mum was crying so much she couldn’t speak. Nan had to tell me: ‘Your Mum has dementia’. I thought: ‘That’s an old person’s disease... this can’t be right’.
- Alix, Kris’ daughter
Dementia is more than an individual tragedy; it takes a huge toll on entire families.
So that we can continue to help families across Australia handle what happens when a loved one gets dementia, please send an urgent gift this Easter.
Now 50, Kris has been living with dementia since her youngest child was six. She can’t remember life before dementia. Kris can’t even recognise her now-adult children in their baby photos – she often tries to take down the photos of the strangers on the wall.
As Kris has faced increasing difficulty with everyday tasks and severe memory loss, Alix has been there, helping her stepdad Troy care for her Mum. They’ve both done their best to handle Kris’ personality and behaviour changes, low moods and emotional withdrawal. It’s a journey they’ve been on now since Alix was just 14.
Recently, they’ve noticed a steep decline in Kris’ emotional health. She has rage outbursts, accusing family members of stealing from her or keeping secrets. Her family feel helpless to calm her. The uncertainty is hard to take – wondering what changes will be next.
I was offered my dream job as a researcher in Perth. I agonised for months over whether to take it. I feel huge worry, guilt and shame about leaving Mum. I don’t know how long she has left.
- Alix, Kris’ daughter
At the same time, Alix is facing changes in her life. After recently finishing a PhD in psychology, she felt torn: should she go and try to build a life of her own - or stay to care for her Mum in Newcastle? Via FaceTime chats from Perth, Alix loves to hear that Kris is still going for her daily swim and coffee dates with her brother Brock. She reminds Kris that Easter is coming, where their family tradition is to give pyjamas instead of Easter eggs.
Dementia is the most common cause of death for females in Australia. No one can prepare you for the changes it brings. It’s no surprise that the strain tears some families apart.
Counselling for Kris and her family, support groups, short courses and a Dementia Support Worker to help them navigate this tough journey, are just some of the ways your support helps them handle dementia.
“I don’t want to think about where we would be without Dementia Australia,” says Alix.
“They’ve taken the stress away. Without them, there’s no way I could have taken my dream job in Perth.
“And as researcher myself, I can’t stress how vital their research is. There is a huge goal to stop dementia happening, but we also need to find new ways to help families cope day-to-day.”