AFTER just on 16 years in the job, I think it is time to retire. Not because I lack any enthusiasm for work in dementia and dementia care, but because I believe dementia care in Australia is on the cusp of a new beginning.
Dementia in Australia still suffers from stigma, bad jokes and an unwarranted link to the ageing process.
It is a bit like where cancer was 20 years ago.
While at a Federal level, the Government has committed real dollars in an effort to tackle this significant condition that has the potential to swamp our health systems, more needs to be done by other levels of government.
Throughout my involvement with dementia, there have been changes, and mostly they are for the better.
I rate the 2003 Access Economics report on dementia as one of the most significant contributions that changed the focus of the debate.
Suddenly the dementia prevalence numbers stared us in the face and the economists were left to contemplate the $6.9 billion it was estimated to cost the Australian community in 2002 to care for and support those people living with dementia.
Since then, there has been a gradual dawning that dementia is here to stay; that the problem will grow as our society ages and the demands on the system will have a significant impact on how the Australian health dollar is spent.
Having been part of the journey that has brought dementia and dementia care to where it is today has been a rare experience and, for me, a great personal reward.
There have been many highlights but none greater than to watch a 21-year-old man bravely and openly share his difficult journey in accepting his father’s dementia diagnosis at the age of 53.
In front of more than 1000 people at the 2007 National Alzheimer’s Australia Conference in Perth, the young man gave a poignant, insightful account of how families are affected by this cruel disease.
It was deserving of the standing ovation he received and justified the very small contribution that I have been able to make.
- Frank Schaper will retire in September as chief executive of Alzheimer’s Australia WA.