Aged Care

Brad's Journey

Living with younger onset dementia

A steel mind dulled of life’s memories

Brad McDonald enjoyed a career in the steel industry spanning 37 years, starting on the factory floor as a teenager and working his way up to Operations Manager. 

His career was full of responsibilities and success, and provided the financial support for his family - his wife, Jo, who also worked for Union Steel, and their two sons Lachlan and Matthew. Yet a series of events over four years, following Brad’s redundancy, turned the close-knit family upside down.

At the age of 58, Brad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common type of dementia in younger people. “Brad’s job was really familiar to him, so after his redundancy four years earlier, this is when things started to become a bit difficult,” Jo, 47 says. “We just noticed little things happening. He had lost his get up and go, and one day Brad just broke down.”

Younger onset dementia, the term for dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65, is similar to dementia in older people. In both younger onset and older age, dementia is an illness that causes a progressive decline in mental function with symptoms such as loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and normal emotional reactions.

"Younger onset dementia affects around 26,000 Australians. The first symptoms are not memory loss, as in older people, but rather problems with vision, speech, planning, decision-making and behaviour"

Conditions such as vitamin and hormone deficiencies as well as depression, infections and even medication can produce symptoms that are similar to dementia. As a result, early diagnosis in younger people is often more difficult, but so critical. 

For Brad, his diagnosis of younger onset dementia was a journey over several years, originally misdiagnosed as depression. 

“After his redundancy Brad was successful in securing another Operations Manager position in the steel industry, and despite the familiarity of the work he was unable to make the probation period,” Jo says.

A series of further events, including a loss of vision while driving, and a deterioration in Brad’s understanding and processing, saw Jo question if there was a bigger issue. 

The McDonalds were referred to a neurologist. No more than 30 minutes after they had arrived a series of short cognitive tests pinpointed Brad’s condition – Alzheimer’s disease.

“I was shocked at what Brad couldn’t do in the tests. He couldn’t put the numbers on the clock face and couldn’t recall things,” Jo says. 

His career was full of responsibilities and success, and provided the financial support for his family - his wife, Jo, who also worked for Union Steel, and their two sons Lachlan and Matthew. Yet a series of events over four years, following Brad’s redundancy, turned the close-knit family upside down.

At the age of 58, Brad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common type of dementia in younger people. “Brad’s job was really familiar to him, so after his redundancy four years earlier, this is when things started to become a bit difficult,” Jo, 47 says. “We just noticed little things happening. He had lost his get up and go, and one day Brad just broke down.”

Younger onset dementia, the term for dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65, is similar to dementia in older people. In both younger onset and older age, dementia is an illness that causes a progressive decline in mental function with symptoms such as loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and normal emotional reactions.

“I walked out completely shocked and not knowing what to do. All I had was a phone number of Alzheimer’s Australia.”

 

For the McDonald’s, they quickly realised there was little awareness of the disease.

“We’ve changed Brad’s GP to someone who has the time to listen and understand, and reached out to a geriatrician who has connected us to the Memory Clinic at Prince Charles Hospital and to a number of support groups for younger onset dementia,” Jo says.

“While we’ve had some great support, we’ve also hit walls. For example, when Brad collapsed from medication side effects and was in Coronary Care the medical team essentially walked away and discharged Brad when they learned of his disease.”

Striking Brad at such a young age has significantly impacted the whole family with the loss of his income and driver’s licence. 

“With Brad not driving it was just really difficult for him to continue working. Logistically, because I was working full-time, I wasn’t able to get him to and from work, so we made the decision for him to stop working and be at home,” Jo says.

“Obviously that had a financial impact. We had to adjust our living standards. We had debt that we had to pay so we had to sell our house, and live off what I earn.”

“I was shocked at what Brad couldn’t do in the tests. He couldn’t put the numbers on the clock face and couldn’t recall things. I walked out of the neurologist appointment completely shocked and not knowing what to do.”

For the boys, they reflect on the impact and change. “I miss the ‘old Dad’. He was always caring, and still is. I just see other fathers, and I can’t imagine Dad being like that, taking up that normal father role,” says Lachlan, 17. 

“You can’t anticipate anything, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, and you just need to be open to anything. Just take each day as it comes.”

His brother Matthew, 18 says: “Everything’s different now, you keep going day-by-day. It’s been so long now, Dad’s dementia is almost normal, but compared to what he was to now, it’s two totally different people. These days it’s tough, you can’t have a conversation with him.”

Today Jo resumes full responsibility of raising their family, managing financial responsibilities, and caring for Brad. 

“Brad was home alone three days a week. I’d call him constantly through the day. One day I couldn’t get hold of him and that was a bit scary,” she says.

Matt shares: “There was that time Dad went to the bottle-o. He couldn’t find his way home. He just sat on the kerb and started drinking. I came past, found him and brought him home.”

As Brad’s condition progresses and he is more dependent on care, Jo takes on more responsibility while ensuring everyone in the family has their own lives and independence. “I found I was relying on the kids. They’d be home from school or work and I’d be asking them to just stay there until I got home from work. They’re kids, they need to have their own lives,” says Jo. “Plus, it’s important for Brad to have his independence, for him to feel good about himself. His speech is hard now and at the point where he forgets words but we work through it.”

Earlier this year, on advice from their geriatrician to look for daytime care for Brad, with support of Dementia Australia (formerly Alzheimer’s Australia), they were successful in their application for NDIS funding for dedicated carers to support Brad. This funding now provides the family with the peace of mind knowing Brad is safe. 

Finding the right carer for Brad has been critical, identifying that with the progression of Brad’s Alzheimer’s, he requires the same carer and familiar face each day. 

Wendy, one of the Carinity Home Care Lifestyle Carers, is Brad’s dedicated daytime carer at the McDonald’s home four days a week. 

“I don’t just care and support Brad - I support the whole family such as preparing meals, helping with the groceries and cleaning,” Wendy says.

Reflecting on caring for someone with dementia, Wendy says: “Each day is different with Brad. I have to pick-up on his energy and get a feel for what’s going on in his head. 

“Not knowing Brad before his diagnosis can be hard at times, not knowing what he was like, what motivated him, the way he thinks. So I really have to read his body language all the time. My goal each day is to support him emotionally.”

Keeping Brad physically and mentally active is a focus for Wendy, tapping in to his senses and memories including listening to his favourite rock music and trips to the ocean where he “just lights up”. Brad has joined the Remember Me - Younger Onset Dementia Social Group which brings people together for programs and activities around Brisbane including a dedicated session at GOMA.

“It is extremely important for us as a family, and is our aim, to have Brad at home with us for as long as possible. Family was everything, that was all he ever wanted. With our newly formed relationship with Carinity and Wendy this goal is now an achievable goal,” Jo says.

Jo, Matthew and Lachlan are planning their annual holiday with Brad at Caloundra – the familiarity the McDonald family can once again bask in. 

“Dad’s always happy there, we’ve always had good memories up there. It makes you just feel so happy seeing and knowing Dad’s in a good space, and making the most of life. You can just see the old Dad. It’s just awesome to see,” Lachlan says. 

Caririnity Home Care we support you to live an active and fulfilling life within the comfort of your own home and community. We provide so much more than just care and help around the home. Whatever you want to get out of life, we’ll work with you to make it happen. This includes assistance with personal and nursing care through to getting you out and about with family and friends to do the things you love. Call 1800 109 109 Visit homecare.carinity.org.au

A New Sense of Home

The emotions you experience when you retire, can be different for everyone. Often there is excitement about the freedom and time you will have, other people may feel sad about the ending of an era. For those moving into a retirement community, this means new friends and new activities, against a backdrop of care and safety.

Fraser and Annette Ferguson are preparing to move from their family home in Mount Colah in Sydney’s north to a brand new, state-of-the-art apartment in Catholic Healthcare’s new retirement community of McQuoin Park, in the leafy north shore suburb of Wahroonga.

 

Construction of this new village is underway, with the first release of one, two, three-bedroom and penthouse apartments now selling.

 

For the Fergusons, looking after their large family home and beautiful garden has become cumbersome.

“At our age we just can’t keep up with the life that we’ve always lived. We’re not as strong and don’t have the energy we once had,” says Annette.

 

The thought of leaving their home has been emotional but, now the decision is made, Annette and Fraser can’t wait to start their next stage at McQuoin Park.

 

“I am looking forward to moving into our new home next year in June, having the freedom to do other things and most of all about doing less housework. It’s great that the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens, shared spaces and amenities is all taken care of,” says Annette.

The location of McQuoin Park was a huge drawcard for the Fergusons. The development boasts easy access to a host of dining, shopping and entertainment options as well as medical centres, and direct train links to Chatswood, the city and the Central Coast.

 

Swapping a large family home for a smaller property frees up plenty of funds and time for travel. Fraser and Annette would like to see the cherry blossoms in Japan and the flower shows in Dubai, and knowing their three-bedroom apartment will be safe and secure in their absence offers plenty of reassurance.

“It gives us peace of mind knowing we’re not going to come home to any drama, or overgrown lawns and gardens,” says Annette.

 

Annette is excited about the art and craft room, and Friday night happy hour.

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“I think it will be lovely. I do lots of painting and they have lots of facilities there where you can meet likeminded, creative people. And at the end of the week I think it will be wonderful to all have a drink together.

 

“This next stage of life for us is a challenge, but it’s exciting.”

 

When complete, McQuoin Park will be a special retirement village for the modern retirement lifestyle.

Apartments will be spacious and light, have open-plan layouts ideal for living and entertaining; and include premium finishes. The village will feature shared spaces that bring people together, including a residents’ lounge and terrace, a dining room with a community kitchen for social events, a 40-seat cinema for movies and sporting events, a library, a billiards room and a men’s shed. There’s also an indoor swimming pool and a gym offering a variety of group exercise classes.

 

Find out more by calling 1300 221 271 or visit the McQuoin Park website at www.mcquoinpark.com.au

Promoting enablement and a new independence with Home Care Packages

When a loved one is affected by illness, it can dramatically affect a family’s life forever – especially if that person now requires care. In most cases, this responsibility would fall to the immediate family, however it is important to know that there is help available in the form of a Home Care Package. 

A Home Care Package is a coordinated plan of services that help you live independently for as long as you can. There are four levels of support available ranked from basic care needs to high-level care needs. Depending on your care requirements, an aged care assessor will determine the best level package to meet your needs.

 

You then choose a service provider which will tailor a package of services for you. In the case of Milton Renham, having a Home Care Package improved his quality of life and allowed him to receive 

high-level support in his own home.

Husband and wife, Milton and Dilys Renham, were living happily on the Central Coast of New South Wales when Milton’s health suddenly deteriorated, requiring high-level care. Unfortunately, Dilys did not have the skills required to give her husband the best quality of care.

Luckily, Milton had a Home Care Package, which allowed him to receive the support he required. Already receiving a Level 2 Home Care Package, Milton was reassessed and was upgraded to a Level 4 package – the highest level of government funding available.  

Having a Home Care Package changed Milton’s life as he was able to maintain his independence whilst receiving support in his own home.

 

His funding allowed him to utilise an array of services from personal care, nursing, domestic assistance, home maintenance, escorts to-and-from the local shopping centre, medical appointments, and social outings to even walking their beloved pet dog, Klyte.

When a family member becomes unwell and requires care, we often forget the impact this has on their immediate family, especially the partners and siblings of high care need clients. 

They lose their independence because they need to support their partner on a full-time basis. Having a Home Care Package not only changed Milton’s life, but also the life of his wife, Dilys.

Having a strong affiliation to the art world, Dilys is a gallery tour guide who has shared her extensive knowledge of art practitioners and their work to audiences globally for years. You will often find her spending her weekends down at the Art Gallery of New South Wales directing tours of the latest exhibits on show. 

 

With Milton on a Home Care Package, this eased the burden and stress on Dilys and allowed her to maintain her independence and keep her career, reassured that her husband was being cared for – without the worry.

 

A Home Care Package will not only change your life, but also the lives of those around you. Whether you are currently living in your own home, in a retirement village, or residing in an independent living unit, a Home Care Package will support you to live independently for as long as you can.

Choosing the right care provider is crucial to maximising your Home Care Package and tailoring a plan of services to meet your care needs. Meditech Staffing is here to help. As an experienced and widely respected approved provider of aged care and disability support services, Meditech has an outstanding team of

people whose commitment and dedication underline our distinctive client-focused service delivery.

 

We believe in giving 100 percent and so should your Home Care Package. Meditech does not charge administration fees including the basic daily fee, case management fees or an exit fee for Home

Care Packages - meaning 100 percent of your package is available for your services.

 

Meditech is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week whether you are a client or a carer, meaning someone is always available to take your call.  Acase manager will also be provided to help you

manage your services and funding. We promote enablement and new independence for our clients, making sure you are actively involved in your care plan and funding organisation.

For any enquiries please call 02 9764 4488 

or email enquiries@meditechstaffing.com.au,

and one of our friendly staff will be happy to assist you.

www.meditechstaffing.com.au,