25th October, 2017

It is 8.30am and Paula George greets her 94-year-old father Alan with a smile and military salute.

This day, Alan remembers his daughter’s name, but it’s not always the case despite the close bond the two share.

Alan George during WWII
Photo: Alan George during WWII

“He has good days and bad days,” Paula admits. “He was very intelligent, which makes this so hard.”

Alan sits comfortably in his chair stacking wooden blocks at Glenbrook Residential Aged Care at Nambour. He is one of about a dozen people living in the facility with a complex dementia diagnosis.

The veteran served in the Intelligence Unit in WWII in Darwin, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands before he became a senior diplomat based in Europe with his wife Cathe and five children.

Now, the grandfather-of-four has vascular dementia, an incurable and progressive disease affecting his memory, reasoning and judgement, which he has lived with for 10 years.

“I am sharing our story to support Wishlist’s goal of raising $30,000 for a specially-designed dementia-friendly outdoor area at Nambour Hospital and also a sensory garden here at Glenbrook,” Paula says.

“Dad was always gardening. He lived through the Depression and grew fruit trees to provide for the family. This proposed project is so important, it’s so enriching.

“My grandmother had Alzheimer’s Disease so I witnessed her staying with different relatives and everyone caring for her. I watched her struggle.

Paula George and Alan George.
Photo: Paula George and Alan George.

“There came a time with my dad that my mother reluctantly let people come into their home to help. He stopped recognising mum and it broke her heart. She lost her partner, lost her soul mate.”

Being married for 63 years, Paula says the couple were only separated by illness.

Cathe and Alan George on their wedding day.
Cathe and Alan George on their wedding day.

“Mum passed away six months ago, so I come in with my brother and greet dad when he’s having breakfast and sometimes we walk through the garden.

“He is profoundly deaf due to concussion grenades in the war, but he still has understanding and insight. You grab those moments like a little gem.

“Unfortunately, you have nowhere to hide with this disease.”

Next Sunday, Wishlist will hold their first Teddy Bears’ Picnic to raise funds for a specially-designed outdoor area to enhance patient care at Nambour Hospital’s Acute Restorative Care (ARC) Unit.

The team provides care for frail older patients with complex cognitive issues and is rallying the community to support the event at Cotton Tree Park.

Major sponsor and award-winning care provider Just Better Care supported the picnic without hesitation, in part due to the number of people the organisation cares for with dementia.

Director Tony Sandy cited one particular heart-wrenching case of a client who went very quickly from being a business and community leader to losing everything when he was struck by early onset dementia.

“This person lost the business he’d worked all his life to build and is now living with relatives, and cared for by family, along with the support of Just Better Care,” Mr Sandy said.

“The additional support our families receive from organisations like ours provides huge relief and respite to those who care for loved ones with dementia, and we see our support of this event as a way to provide just a little bit more, hopefully through the provision of the dementia garden.”

The innovative project will include a sensory garden, mini workshop and other stimulating therapeutic tools in an environment which will be a first on the Coast for dementia patients.

Currently, there are more than 413,106 Australians living with dementia that require specialist care. That number is expected to grow to 536,164 by 2025.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic on National Grandparents Day

When: Sunday October 29

Time: 9am until midday

Where: Cotton Tree Park

Cost: $10 each which includes food, drinks and activities voucher.