The disease that will touch almost every Australian life at some stage

This article is sponsored by Dementia Australia

It was 2007 and Angela Pellegrino-Lavalle knew something wasn’t right.

It began with a seemingly innocuous observation; her father Mauro, the patriarch of her close-knit family, began forgetting where he had put things moments before. Then he began retelling the same stories over and over, unaware that he was repeating himself to his family. 

Shockwaves permeated through Angela’s family after her father was diagnosed with dementia. 

“My mum, with the help of my brother and I, looked after dad for six years at home before his condition deteriorated and in 2013 he was placed into a dementia-specific facility,” she remembers.

Grief-stricken at her father’s deteriorating condition, Angela was also faced with the the difficult conversation she needed to have with her young children. She struggled to find the resources and support that would help their young minds understand what was happening to their grandfather.

Angela decided to publish a picture book, entitled I’ll Remember for you Grandad, which opened the up conversation to young children about dementia. 

“The contents of the book reflects my real life experience with the story following a boy who notices changes in the behaviour of his grandfather, prompting the mother to explain dementia in simple terms,” she says.

Sadly, Mauro Pellegrino lost his battle with dementia in March 2017. He was 86. 

Angela has been participating in the Memory Walk & Jog since 2013, a charity walk which raises much-needed funds for dementia with walks in 10 locations across NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, in cities such as Adelaide, Brisbane, Geelong, the Hunter, Illawarra and Sydney.

Memory Walk & Jog is an all-inclusive event where people of all fitness levels can participate – from grandkids to grandparents. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Memory Walk & Jog; the event started small in 2004 but has since grown to become one of Dementia Australia’s major fundraising events. All money raised goes directly back into the support services offered by Dementia Australia in the local areas.

Memory Walk & Jog ambassadors include Ita Buttrose, Natarsha Belling, Doris Younane and Sam Poolman.

Angela says it’s a cause close to her heart and to hundreds of thousands of others whose lives are touched by dementia each year. There are currently around 425,416 Australians living with dementia, an estimated 196,490 carers in the community, and 94,670 carers working in the cared accommodation sector. 

“The impact of dementia is not only felt by the person diagnosed but also those close to them,” Angela says.

“It is so important that people know where to go to get the help and support they need – and more importantly, how to navigate the system. Funds raised by Memory Walk & Jog will help provide provide this support, such as counselling, support groups and education, to families and carers affected by this disease.” 

In 2017, dementia was estimated to cost Australia $14.67 billion. By 2025, the total cost of dementia is predicted to increase to $18.7 billion.

Angela and her father Mauro

Angela and her father Mauro

Angela also says that those struggling with a loved one’s diagnosis are bound to feel frustrated and lost at times – and that’s okay. 

“I would let carers and family members know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and sometimes to feel guilty, exhausted, frustrated and absolutely helpless!” she says.

“You talk to and look after your loved one who you have known forever, but each day you learn to deal with their changing personality and habits. It can be confronting for you, and at times, scary.

“My advice would be to join a support group in your area. You’ll meet carers and people diagnosed with dementia, people who are at different stages on their journey who may be able to help with your questions. It gives you the opportunity share your experience and not feel isolated.

“Most importantly”, she says, “Be kind to yourself. You will have good and bad days. Ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of failure; it’s a step you need to take to allow you to continue in your role as a carer.”

Angela believes the Memory Walk initiative is crucial to generating awareness and funds for dementia in Australia, which will touch almost every Australian life in some capacity in their lifetime. Currently around 250 people are diagnosed with dementia each day. 

Full proceeds from Angela’s book I’ll Remember for you Grandad will be donated to the Memory Walk & Jog in memory of her late father, Mauro. 

“I think it’s so important to raise awareness and educate people about dementia. I really hope the money raised from Memory Walk & Jog will assist people who have the disease and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.”

You can donate to Angela’s fundraising page by clicking this link

For more information or to get involved with Memory Walk & Jog, visit the website

2018 KEY DATES

Illawarra - Stuart Park, North Wollongong – 4th March

Adelaide - Colley Reserve, Glenelg – 18th March              

Sydney - Tench Reserve, Penrith – 25th March

Melbourne - Westerfolds Park, Templestowe 22nd April

Geelong - Barwon Valley Park, Belmont – 29th April

Sydney - Leichhardt Oval #3, Lilyfield – 6th May

The Hunter - Speers Point Park, Lake Macquarie – 20th May

Brisbane - Rocks Riverside Park, Seventeen Mile Rocks – 3rd June

Gold Coast - Pratten Park, Old Burleigh Road, Broadbeach – 10th June

Sunshine Coast - Kawana Surf Club, Buddina – 24th June

This article is sponsored by Dementia Australia