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New advisory group set to tackle dementia -

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New advisory group set to tackle dementia

AM - Monday, 3 March , 2008 08:10:00

Reporter: Ashley Hall

PETER CAVE: In the next 20 years, it's estimated that the number of Australians living with
dementia will double to 400,000.

It's a big task facing the 16 people appointed to the Rudd Government's new ministerial advisory
group on dementia. They're predominantly health professionals and representatives of advocacy
groups.

But perhaps the boldest appointment is the co-chairwoman, Sue Pieters-Hawke, the daughter of Former
Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who's been caring for her mother Hazel who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's
seven years ago.

Sue Pieters-Hawke spoke to Ashley Hall.

SUE PIETERS-HAWKE: I think it's important that the whole recognition of the vast set of problems
that come with dementia, both for the people with dementia and for the people caring with them,
that recognition and good consideration of good policy support structures and training for that is
built into the process. Otherwise, we're not going to be doing the best by the members of our
population that have dementia and the many millions of people who care for them.

ASHLEY HALL: What sort of perspective do you bring?

SUE PIETERS-HAWKE: Well I bring, in that sense, a carer perspective because I hold my mum's care.
We're lucky enough to live next door to each other, and she has a sense of family and a sense of
location. Her neighbours are fabulous. So, she still has, even though she's cognitively quite
diminished, she still subjectively has a good sense of her own life. And this is something that is
possible with dementia and to be able to achieve that for all Australians with dementia in a
variety of ways is I think an objective that many people who work in the field would like to see.

ASHLEY HALL: You see the system from inside. How is the system fairing?

SUE PIETERS-HAWKE: Navigating the system, finding your way round it in different parts of the
country and just finding out what you might be entitled to, what might be out there that would help
you. Learning about dementia and the changes it can bring and what decisions it might be useful to
make.

There's many, many aspects of the system. So there is a lot. It's a big job. In ideal terms of how
we would like to see, all older Australians have a life that has dignity and care to it and I think
this committee and the steps this Minister is taking are very good ones in that direction.

ASHLEY HALL: And just finally, seven years after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, how is
your mother Hazel Hawke doing?

SUE PIETERS-HAWKE: Look she's... the disease has progressed, so she's cognitively much more damaged
as happens, but we're very lucky in that the course of the dementia with mum is she's cheerful. And
as I said before, she enjoys her sense of place, she enjoys that she's got family nearby, she knows
her neighbours, she walks in the area a lot. We look at the birds, she's got a wicked sense of
humour. She's become quite risqué and naughty.

ASHLEY HALL: Still laughing?

SUE PIETERS-HAWKE: Yes, laughing, with that famous Hazel laugh, it's just more frequent and louder.
I think for a very, very tragic disease that often goes very badly, we feel incredibly fortunate
that we're having a relatively positive pathway through it. We're suffering a lot less than I think
some people and their families suffer.

PETER CAVE: Sue Pieters-Hawke and the reporter was Ashley Hall.