Alzheimer’s Australia ambassador Ita Buttrose has experienced first-hand the journey of caring for a loved one with dementia.  

Ita Buttrose, dementia supporterMedia legend Ita Buttrose AO, OBE, might never have pursued a career in journalism if it hadn’t been for her father, Charles Oswald Buttrose. Charles was a giant of journalism, a former war correspondent and at the time of his retirement, assistant general manager of the ABC. 

When Charles was diagnosed with vascular dementia in his early 80s, it came as a shock to the family. “I now know there were signs that we just put down to him getting older,” says Ita. “We didn’t really think it was anything out of the ordinary.”

Although her son was still living at home at the time, Ita didn’t hesitate to become her father’s primary carer. “Your parent is your parent,” she says. “I never really thought I shouldn’t be looking after him.

“He wanted to stay in his own home. That was something he was very passionate about and my brothers and I did manage to do that for him.

“I was the principal carer and we had other carers who came in to help out on the times when I wasn’t there,” she says. “What I did – although I didn’t realise this at the time – was to create a dementia-friendly community in the neighbourhood where Dad lived.” This is now one of Alzheimer’s Australia’s principal goals. 

Ita spoke to the chemist down the street where her father was a customer, and the manager at his local bank, who would calm him down if he became agitated. “I put steps in motion so that people kept an eye on Dad, enabling him to still have his independence.”   

Social isolation is a big issue both for people living with dementia and their carers, Ita says. “People don’t quite know how to react to someone with dementia and when they hear a friend has dementia, they often stop calling,” she says. “I think it’s important for people to realise that even though a person has dementia, everybody’s dementia is different, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t engage and enjoy social interaction with friends.”  

Ita remembers visits with her children and family dog. “Dad enjoyed having us over and he was always more relaxed when I was there with the kids. He would join in our conversations to the best of his ability, he would go swimming and he loved it when my dog would jump in the pool and swim with him.” 

There were some challenging, but also humorous moments. “The laughter is part of the dementia experience,” she says. “You have to laugh, because if you don’t laugh, you’d be in tears all the time.” 

The advice Ita has for carers is to be kind to yourself. “Carers often feel very guilty about taking time out for themselves but it’s essential that they do, because caring is a 24/7 job and it’s important to take some breathing space now and again. It’s what you need to do in order to be an effective carer.” 

Alzheimer's Australia

Dementia helpline: 1800 100 500

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