Man in the mirror: How dementia reversed the roles for carer Prue and her dad

Grateful for every day': Prue and Tim Granger.
Grateful for every day': Prue and Tim Granger.

This is sponsored content for Dementia Australia.

While prolonged stress and uncertainty has become part of many people's lives this past year as a result of COVID-19, for families coping with dementia it's not new. And for many, like Tim Granger's family, the pandemic has added to the strain. Read on to find out about Tim's story and also how you can help by supporting Dementia Australia's annual Memory Walk & Jogevent in your community.

When Prue Granger's dad Tim was diagnosed with younger onset dementia at age 52 she thought it was just one of life's challenges that he'd be able to overcome.

"Dad is such a strong, positive person so when mum told me he had dementia, I thought he'd get through it," says 26-year-old Prue, who is now her dad's carer. "It took time to accept. It changed all of our lives forever.

"Dad had always been the one to lift me up when I needed it and now our roles are reversed and I'm helping him. It's so hard to see Dad change but I'm grateful for every day we get together."

The first signs of Tim's dementia were subtle. A committed family man running his own business, who loved to cook his family dinner every night and plan holidays together, he felt bulletproof.

But at 51, he began making unusual mistakes. He'd put food away in crockery drawers and came home with dings in the car. He'd forget to call work clients back and how to do simple math.

After being quickly let go from two jobs in a row running automotive spare parts businesses, he launched his own company.

But wife Laura noticed he was confused and overwhelmed. In the end she was doing most of the work.

'We know we are not alone': Tim, Prue and Laura Granger have been able to find valuable support through Dementia Australia.

'We know we are not alone': Tim, Prue and Laura Granger have been able to find valuable support through Dementia Australia.

Laura went to their GP with her concerns and in the months ahead, Tim underwent test after test. A year after his symptoms began, he was diagnosed with younger onset dementia.

Loss of memory and coordination means Tim can no longer drive, read, write, or dress himself. He is easily flustered, often confused and has severe anxiety. Tim was forced to sell his business, and then, unable to continue to pay the mortgage, the family lost their home.

Prue took on the role of Tim's carer so her Mum could run her business, a dance studio, and allow the family to stay afloat financially. Then the COVID-19 crisis began, and Laura's business shut down.

COVID-19 has also added to Tim's anxiety, disrupting the routines that helped him and the family cope with the stress of living life with dementia.

"Despite his positive attitude,COVID-19 has been a nightmare for dad," said Prue.

"Calming routines have been severely disrupted. Exercise therapy has been restricted. Nightly news about COVID-19 overwhelms him, and social distancing and handwashing are impossible to remember."

Recently, Tim's health seriously deteriorated. For Prue, one incident was overwhelmingly heartbreaking.

"Dad wanted to show me the man in the mirror who was watching him," Prue recalls. "I realised he was talking about his reflection - he couldn't recognise his own face anymore. I broke down crying and rang Mum. I can't imagine how awful this must feel for Dad."

A shining light for the family has been the support they have received from Dementia Australia. Prue said finding out about the organisation, and being able to benefit from the important work it does, was a huge relief.

Soon after, Tim was assigned a case worker, who could link him with a range of support services in his community. Counselling has helped with the mixture of emotions Tim and his family experience and education has helped them understand his illness and decline.

"It was absolutely amazing," she said of the day they discovered Dementia Australia existed. "Help is just a phone call away on the National Dementia Helpline."

"Not only has our family gained tools to help deal with our situation, Dad has also made lifelong friends through Dementia Australia," Prue said. "We know we are not alone: it's an incredible feeling."

Would you like to help? Memory Walk & Jog is one of the key fundraising initiatives of Dementia Australia that each year involves communities getting together, creating a team and getting active to help build a better today for the estimated 459,000 people living with dementia around the country. You can register for your local Memory Walk & Jog being held at the Sydney international Regatta Centre here.

This is sponsored content for Dementia Australia.