South Auckland woman Amrita, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s three years ago when she was only 58 years old, is one of those who will be taking part in Dementia Auckland’s annual ‘Get Together for Dementia’ fundraiser events this month.
As a music teacher who had taught in international schools around the world, Amrita’s diagnosis hit hard as it meant the end of her career. Amrita and her husband Martin, along with their son Sanesh (who was only 15 years old at the time) were living overseas when they first started to notice changes. At first it was just forgetfulness and some eccentricities in her behaviour, but one evening while out with friends Amrita kept asking the same question over and over – that’s when they realised something wasn’t right and they booked in to see a neurologist.
“The initial response from medical staff in Shanghai was that she couldn’t have dementia because she was too young,” says Martin. “Also the fact that she was still able to play complex music on the piano made it seem unlikely, but after we returned to New Zealand we visited a local GP who confirmed our worst fear.”
Shortly after her diagnosis, Amrita was put in touch with Dementia Auckland and in recent years has been going along to their Cognitive Stimulation Therapy programme, with incredible results. “I was thrilled to see some real change in Amrita and the others in her group,” says Martin.
“Harnessing her love of music has also been important, she’s been playing the piano at retirement centres, the Papakura Salvation Army, where she volunteers, and at Toastmasters meetings that she attends every second Thursday. It’s just amazing to see her remember her old favourites. Sharing music is a way of helping her and helping others too.”
Martin says they have always been extremely open about Amrita’s dementia, which has helped them cope.
“It has allowed us to see that you can have dementia and still live your life. It has been a huge learning curve for us all, but by sharing our story, we know we can help others.” Sanesh has been a pillar of support for his mum and is planning a dinner for family and friends in September, with donations from each of the meals going to Dementia Auckland.
Executive Director at Dementia Auckland Paul Sullivan says, “Our hope is that the more we come together and talk about dementia and the ways it can be treated, the more support we will receive from government and the wider public to enable us to fund the programmes that are making a real positive difference on the thousands of people around New Zealand living with Dementia.”
Pakuranga Park Village is having their afternoon tea for Dementia Auckland on 20 September at 1.30pm, with Amrita invited to play piano for them.
Caption: Amrita dances with Martin at her 60th birthday party.