DENIS McKenzie was a hard-worker in the fencing industry. His favourite hobbies were fox hunting and bird keeping.
A diagnosis of early-onset dementia turned the McKenzies whole life upside-down.
Denis had just turned 60 years old and had not even started talk about retirement but chose to immediately close his business, selling his equipment like chainsaws and post-drivers.
Marion McKenzie said her husband Denis was her hero, particularly in the five years from diagnosis until he died aged 65.
Ms McKenzie said the dementia journey could be isolating and lonely as a carer but the key message she hoped to convey for Dementia Awareness Month was to always treat people with dementia with dignity and respect.
“Just for people to be a bit more understanding in places, like a coffee shop. Don’t judge people so quickly,” Ms McKenzie said. “Be mindful and be there as a friend if someone you know is diagnosed with dementia...It was so tough but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Ms McKenzie said she tried to include Denis in major decisions. He found new hobbies, like the art program at Eyres House, which also help with social interaction. She said a monthly Ballarat carers’ group, of which she was still an active member, had been incredible support.
In hindsight, Ms McKenzie could notice signs of the disease going back years.
Most were subtle. Denis was getting tired at work, but he worked hard. He would forget things, repeat things. Then one day, he struggled to do a quote and they felt something was up.
“Diagnosis was pretty gut-wrenching,” Ms McKenzie said. “It changed our lives.”
Alzheimer’s Australia is promoting the theme ‘you are not alone’ this Dementia Awareness Month to elevate awareness about dementia and its impact on families.
More than 70 per cent of Australians admit they know little about dementia and almost half the population does not realist the disease is fatal, according to Alzheimer’s Australia.
Most people living with dementia and their carers felt high-levels of stigma.
Ms McKenzie said her husband was still her Denis. Even as his condition deteriorated, Ms McKenzie and her three daughters felt he still recognised them – even if just in a smile or a tear. This is something they will always treasure.