When Diann Bates was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s three years ago at the age of 47, she decided that she would not let the disease define her.
The Como resident reflected on her diagnosis during Dementia Awareness Month, which runs throughout September, and said she continues to remain positive about her future after recently celebrating her 50th birthday.
Although Ms Bates’ official diagnosis came three years ago, her journey with Alzheimer’s disease began around seven years ago when she first noticed her symptoms.
“I would lose my car and forget to pick up the kids,” she said.
“The symptoms were initially frightening, but they could be put down to being a busy mum, general stress and running a business.
“I went to my GP thinking something was wrong and she told me that I may be working too hard running my own business, not sleeping and eating properly, and to come back if I kept having problems.”
After the problems continued over the next year, Ms Bates went back to her GP, who confirmed that something was not right and referred her to a specialist.
After years of tests and medication, it was confirmed that she had younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
“I had never known anyone who was my age who had Alzheimer’s, everyone I had known with the disease was elderly, so I found it difficult to imagine how my life would be in 10 years time,” she said.
“It wasn’t a huge shock when I was officially diagnosed because it had taken a few years, so the disease had woven its way into my everyday life.”
The diagnosis did mean Ms Bates had to sell her marketing business and retire a year ago, which she said was challenging to lose the social aspect of her day-to-day life.
“That’s probably the most confronting thing, when everyone leaves for work or school and I think about what I’m going to do with my day,” she said.
She said she did not let negative thoughts enter her mind and felt grateful every day for the life she has.
“I try to stay as positive as I can, and when I take my dog for a walk each day I think about how lucky I have been to have had a great career, have a great family, travelled and have a roof over my head,” she said.
“I’m not in any pain and my life is pretty great. Stuff happens, but there is no point wallowing in it, you’ve just got to get on with it.”
Ms Bates said technology had been her friend, using apps on her phone to plan out her day, remind her of plans and map where she had parked the car to make leaving the house less of a daunting experience.
Alzheimer’s WA chief executive Rhonda Parker said Dementia Awareness Month was important to raise awareness and support for the 34,000 West Australians currently living with a form of dementia.
“With the number of people with dementia in our community set to rise dramatically over the next 30 years, responsive communities are going to be increasingly important,” she said.
“Many people with dementia report that they often feel stigmatised by the diagnosis and that friends, family, neighbours or businesses treat them differently or may shy away from contact with them.
“This year’s theme ‘You Are Not Alone’ raises awareness of the stigma of dementia and encourages people living with dementia and their carers to reach out.”
Ms Bates said the Alzheimer’s WA and connecting with other people with the disease had helped her, along with not thinking too far ahead.
“I have taken up art and drawing, which is difficult, but I love it, it challenges me and is good for my brain,” she said.
“I try not to think forward too much. I live in the moment and am positive and think about all the blessings in my life.”