30 years ago, Cathy Roth’s life gave her a hint about the path she would travel when her parents-in-law moved nearby. After a challenging life of being refugees with little English, through international medical work, they both developed memory problems that needed her care for the rest of their lives.
In hindsight she knows that this prepared both her, and her husband John, for the possibility that dementia could continue along genetic lines. Cathy remarks that John had good insight into his skills and knew, possibly before she did, that he was facing the same journey into dementia. When confirmed by doctors, Cathy felt an overwhelming sense of grief, with the loss of not only their plans, but also the profound loss of who this man was to society. “The wisdom they carry, the mentoring that could have been, cannot be captured any more. The grandchildren will not get to know the person I knew.”
“It is life at a T intersection” Cathy says, “But instead of going right, you have to go left”.
Cathy felt compelled to act. “I could not sit by and be an observer”. She noticed that what was available for people in John’s situation was limited. Here was a clever man who had been at the top of his field and had experienced the breadth of the professional world, and while he may not remember some things, he was still looking for interesting conversation and company. Yet she could only find groups that were intellectually demanding but required good memory skills, or care services that offered him little. She wanted something that not only stimulated him, but allowed him to keep that sense of who he was.
She spoke with the business community and found many had personal experiences of people in the same situation. The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Dementia Australia agreed to support a group that would meet in a board room for a facilitated session of information and discussion. This was an environment they were familiar with, and activities that allowed them dignity and self-respect.
Thus, Cathy began PALZ, a support network for professionals with Alzheimer’s and similar diseases. She had a management background and over 30 years working with Rotary so she had the organisational skills she needed to make it happen and an army of helpers. The success of PALZ is clear, with branches interstate and expanding into the UK.
She also focusses on staying healthy. “There is a danger that I could forget me, but I am aware that I need to eat well and stay fit, because if I go down, John’s options are reduced.” During the lockdown Cathy found online physical activity programs run by physiotherapists which she loves. “Life is good” she says, “If I was offered an Olympic medal I would not swap it for this journey”
She finishes with a gentle wisdom: “There is always a person inside and beside every illness. Find, treasure and value THAT person”.
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Photo: Phil Hines Photography
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