‘John had been a surgeon, and was still consulting last year, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He would seek out science programs on TV or in magazines, but then forget simple things such as we were about to go shopping.’ We hear from Cathy Roth, Founder of PALZ, a support network for professionals with Alzheimer’s and similar diseases.
PALZ aims to help the individual by instilling dignity, self-respect and self-worth, to link carers with other inspiring partners and cut the costs of health care to society.
‘I have always been involved in community groups and when I was running a business I was invited to join Rotary. I went on to become the first female President of a club in Australasia and later became the first female President of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce. None of this was out of ambition – it was just good timing as attitudes in society changed. Last year I completed an online degree in Business then John received his diagnosis.
‘I realised that those who worked in highly demanding, challenging professions had their social circles around their jobs. Once diagnosed, they not only lost their professional identity but they also lost their circle of intellectual stimulation and their social circle as well.’
‘I started to observe what intellectually stimulated John and what didn’t. The traditional static occupational therapy programs such as handcrafts and games (like bingo) were not enough for him. Instead he would seek out science programs on TV or in magazines, but then forget simple things such as we were about to go shopping.’
‘Over a 12-month period I realised John needed the environment he was used to through work. He needed both work and social connections reproduced – but in an understanding way. I could see the importance of keeping the brain active and the person socially active and I puzzled over how we could maximise the current capabilities and the manner in which we could create opportunities to keep neural pathways open and challenge the brain to open new pathways.’
‘Those diagnosed need intellectual stimulation that comes from listening to high power corporate speakers, and they need to be with like-minded people. PALZ will help those in the early stages who still have that strong sense of loss of professional and social identity. They needed to have a reason to put on that suit again as dressing as a professional is part of that identity. So we will hold monthly activities where there will be formal presentation, industry visits and boardroom lunches. We’ll also run an annual conference that will provide intellectual and social stimulus.’
‘We are currently undertaking incorporation. We have a formal board made up of many amazing people from Corporate backgrounds. Our major sponsors have been extraordinary, they include Harwood Andrews, BUPA, Victorian Employers, the Geelong Advertiser, Krock and BayFM, Geelong Printing and DMK graphics. The Golden Plains Shire is the first municipality to adopt PALZ as a Community Health Program.
‘We are in the process of rolling PALZ out in Geelong and Golden Plains in early 2017, then Victoria mid-year, then nationally later in the year, and internationally, after that.
‘In Australia we have over 300,000 people living with these conditions and it is predicted that by 2050, there will be 900,000. This is a worldwide problem and the social consequences are enormous.
‘I feel Rotary primes people to look to identify community links. I guess too that this is my new magnificent obsession. A manager I had previously mentored, who is now a CEO, said “this now is your life’s mission” and I guess he is right.’