CHANGED LIVES: Helen Nicholson of Alstonville with her husband Stuart who suffers from dementia.
CHANGED LIVES: Helen Nicholson of Alstonville with her husband Stuart who suffers from dementia. Doug Eaton

Dementia takes a special caring

HELEN and Stuart Nicholson have been married for the past 49 1/2 years, but their life together is different now to how it was some 50 years ago.

The couple farmed for most of their lives, but now at 73, Stuart has dementia.

Stuart was diagnosed with symptoms at 65 and for eight years, Helen has been her husband's carer, helping him with everything from brushing hair and getting dressed to planting flowers.

There are more than 100 causes of dementia - a collection of symptoms that affect thinking, behaviour and ability to do everyday tasks.

Stuart is in the primary progressive aphasia part of his dementia that affects speech, comprehension and short-term memory.

Helen said it was almost impossible to explain the experience of caring for a loved one who has dementia, but identified her husband's changed ability to express emotion as the most challenging part of the journey.

"The hardest thing is the lack of emotion," Helen said.

"I mean you can wake up in the morning and it's not even acknowledged that you're there in bed with someone."

She said they have a lot to be grateful for and she is impressed her husband can make her tea just the way she likes it each morning.

Helen said the most important lesson she has learned is to "love differently".

"It's a case of having to adjust your love as time goes on. I've just got to learn to love in a different way as Stuart changes."

This is just one story out of 109,000 cases of people living with dementia in NSW today.

This is Dementia Awareness Week that raises awareness about the all types of dementia, including the most common form, Alzheimer's.

North Coast regional manager for Alzheimer's Australia Gary Thomas said Dementia Awareness Week was about reducing the stigma in the community toward people such as Stuart and Helen and encouraging the community to prevent the onset of dementia.

"The best form of prevention is to keep your brain challenged, be socially active, be fit and healthy and look after your heart," Mr Thomas said.

At a glance

Dementia is the third leading cause of death in Australia and one in five people will have dementia by 2020.

Page electorate has the sixth-highest rate of dementia in the country and Richmond has the 12th highest.



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