Grant McBride Memory Walk and Jog 2021

Grant McBride Memory Walk and Jog 2021 Main Image

26 August 2021

Dementia targets us all. There are more than 470,000 Australians living with dementia and over 1.6 million Australians involved in their care. In the electorate I represent on the Central Coast of New South Wales, some 6,000 people are living with dementia and 20,000 are involved with their care. Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia, behind heart disease, and it affects one in 10 people aged over 65 and younger people too. Every day, another 250 people are diagnosed with dementia and, tragically, another 36 die. But underneath these statistics are the people, the people who live with dementia, their carers, and their families.

Living with dementia has only gotten harder during lockdown. The impact of the lockdown on people with dementia has been significant, especially when it comes to social isolation. According to Dementia Australia, the lack of engagement during lockdown can lead to a greater loss of cognitive function and, over time, people living with dementia won't be able to regain those losses. They are people like Bobby from the Central Coast. Bobby was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in 2016. For Bobby, dementia means living in a constant state of frustration and grief and losing a sense of self because she can't do the things she used to do. Lockdown has been difficult for Bobby. She said: 'My greatest fear is that if I'm not doing what I love, which is volunteering and doing advocacy for dementia, I will lose those skills. Social isolation is worrying because of communication. I'm losing that daily interaction and the ability to engage in small talk. I'm lucky that I have some technical skills, so I can participate in things like Zoom meetings, but for others who don't have those skills the impact of lockdown is much harder.' Bobby has also told me that she misses hugging her grandkids.

But it's not just people living with dementia who are being impacted by the pandemic; it's their carers too. Carers have been doing an incredible job throughout lockdown, and their role has been made much harder, with in-home support and day programs being wound back or closed because of COVID. Carers keep people at home so that they can stay in familiar places longer and in communities for as long as possible, but they're feeling isolated from friends and family, alone, and sometimes vulnerable. I spoke to Michelle, an aged-care manager I know well on the Central Coast, who told me lockdown is having a profound effect both on people living with dementia and on those who love them. She told me today: 'Living with dementia—in this current COVID climate that has closed respite centres—is leaving people without the mental stimulation they need, causing them to become socially isolated. People with dementia are withdrawing from family and friends and are ultimately seeing a progression of their cognitive issues. It is causing enormous stress for carers and, in some instances, mental health issues as well. Carers are exhausted'.

So many Australians are affected by dementia, and my family is no exception. I lost my grandma to dementia when I was in my early 20s, and I lost my dad to younger onset dementia when he was just 68 years old, which inspired me to start the Grant McBride Memory Walk & Jog back in 2018. I wanted to help to raise awareness about dementia, especially dementia in younger people, and to help pave the way for a better future. That first year we had over 350 people join and we raised $20,000 for Dementia Australia. It was an incredible effort from our community. We had another great turnout in 2019, with so many generous donations. Melbourne Cup winner Geoff Corrigan and his wife, Sue, donated $50,000 to the foundation in memory of his own father, Bill, who had Alzheimer's disease for the final six years of his life, and in memory of my father, one of his close friends. Last year we hosted a virtual event because of the pandemic. It was heartwarming to see so many people getting involved, even though they were stuck at home and couldn't meet up in person.

This year will be the fourth memory walk and jog on the Central Coast and, just like 2020, we'll be hosting the event online due to COVID restrictions. The event will kick off on 25 September during Dementia Action Week. I'm encouraging all locals and people across Australia to get behind this important cause. Living with dementia is hard, but in the middle of a pandemic it's become even tougher for so many people living with dementia and their loved ones and carers. People living with dementia and those who care for them are even more isolated, and they need our support more than ever. They are some of the most vulnerable people in our community, living in residential aged care or at home. They are separated from loved ones and separated from the human connection that helps to keep all of us together and safe. In this really tough time, close to home and around the world, let's help to raise awareness and reduce the stigma. Let's try to raise vital funds for Dementia Australia so they can continue their fight. Dementia touches us all. Let's make it a better future for everyone.