Keeping busy is Swaffer’s secret

The Two Wells library held its first author event of the year hosting 2017 South Australian of the Year, Kate Swaffer.

Kate is a poet, a writer and a public speaker, currently studying for her PhD. 

What makes this most remarkable is that Kate was diagnosed with dementia nine years ago, one month before her 50th birthday.

She has since become a staunch advocate for better services and outcomes for people with dementia, believing it to be a human rights issue, especially the placing of young people diagnosed with dementia in aged care facilities.

“Dementia can affect anyone and any age,” Kate said.

After initially being told to give up her studies and visit an aged care facility once a month to get used to it, she “decided I would rather live with dementia rather than go home and die in aged care with the disease.”

With the help of her doctors and neuro physio, she began a self-prescribed brain injury style rehabilitation program, and has slowed down the progression of the disease.

She explained that new-learning is a risk reduction for dementia and advised that once you have learnt something and it is easy, switch to something else.

“A new language or a musical instrument is a great way to keep the brain learning,” she said.

Kate has since penned several books on the subject of dementia and started writing poetry, “Poetry for me has been a gift from dementia, I never wrote it beforehand,” she explained.

Isolation can be detrimental for those suffering from the disease, but Kate also believes it could be better to live alone so as to force people to look after themselves and not deteriorate in a care facility.

“We have to work really hard to keep people with dementia as functional and independent as possible,” she said.

Kate gave the analogy of watching a duck swimming gracefully on a body of water- what you can’t see is the manic paddling underneath.

“When I stop working, I stop paddling, my symptoms reappear, and I sink,” she said.

This is why she is no longer an ‘advocate’ to gain better support for those with dementia, she is an ‘activist’.

“People don’t get visitors in aged care, and suddenly someone’s doing everything for them and they disintegrate,” she told the audience.

“You need to keep people engaged in what they want to do.”

Her final words of advice: “be really positive about life, we were all born with a death sentence, so live everyday as if it’s your last.”

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