Posted by Michelle Van Doninck on 29 September 2015
A standing ovation signalled the end of an incredibly inspiring day when Graeme Atkins – a singer and songwriter living with Younger Onset Dementia – closed the 2015 BaptistCare Dementia Forum with a very special musical performance.
Graeme and his partner Susan Murphy were a highlight of the ‘Living Well, Dying Well’ program, sharing their dementia story with more than 240 forum delegates at the WatervieW, Sydney Olympic Park.
Susan and Graeme have been together for 30 years and both were high school teachers before Susan’s mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2002.
Susan eventually gave up working to become her mother’s full-time carer and then in 2009, Graeme was also diagnosed with dementia when he was just 54 years old.
Sadly, Susan’s mother passed away in 2013 and Susan is now Graeme’s full-time carer - and so much more, as she told the forum.
“I am his partner, his carer, his nurse, his secretary, his manager, his personal assistant, his extra memory bank, his chef, his chauffeur, his roadie, his groupie and his number one fan - without me, this gig couldn’t happen.”
In 2011, Susan was named NSW Caring Partner of the Year and she was made an ambassador to raise awareness of the important roles that carers play in our communities.
Susan told the forum of the challenges faced by the pair in dealing with various government departments and medical practitioners before Graeme took to the stage to share his heartfelt and humourous songs.
From the difficulties involved in being diagnosed to the isolation experienced by those living with dementia, Graeme’s music provided a beautiful insight into the couple’s resilience and positivity in the face of an often frustrating and confusing dementia journey.
Their joint presentation highlighted the need for on-going education to help remove the social stigma and enable people living with dementia to continue to enjoy a meaningful and fulfilling life.
The 2015 BaptistCare Dementia Forum included presentations from a range of high profile speakers including the Hon. John Watkins AM, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia NSW; Associate Professor Lee-Fay Low from the University of Sydney; and, Dementia Consultant Trudy Neal from Alzheimer’s Australia VIC.