After being a furniture maker for decades the excitement of a new circular saw should have elated Kevyn Morris – instead it confused him.
“I took it out of the box and I didn’t know how to put the blade on it,” Morris said. “I had absolutely no idea how to use a piece of equipment that I had used for years.”
Morris, then in his mid-50s, and wife Lee-Anne had moved to Wodonga from Tasmania after designing and producing handmade Tasmanian Huon Pine furniture which had been sold throughout the world.
The now 58-year-old is speaking out as part of Dementia Action Week (16-22 September) to promote its theme ‘Dementia doesn’t discriminate. Do you?’.
He says he even faced discrimination prior to his diagnosis with doctors failing to take his memory loss seriously due to his age. People still struggle to believe him when he tells them he has early onset dementia.
“People say ‘Oh, look don’t worry about that. I do that all the time’,” he said, on others response to his condition.
“But not knowing how to put a blade on a saw when you’ve been doing it for 30 years, that’s not the same as losing your car keys or misplacing a biro.
“I can get lost in a conversation and just not know what we’re talking about. I have trouble with words, with people’s names I’m absolutely shocking.
“I used to be able to remember faces, but now not so much.”
Dementia Australia’s chief executive officer Maree McCabe said one-in-13 of the 447,000 Australians living with dementia are in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
In 2019, there are about 27,247 people with younger onset dementia, which is expected to rise to 29,353 people by 2028 and 41,249 people by 2058.
“It’s not something people are aware of, that people can get dementia at such a young age,” Ms McCabe said.
“They may be the breadwinner of the family, they may still have young children themselves. It impacts their lives in a whole other way.”
She said discrimination against those with dementia, like ignoring or dismissing them in conversations, can cause people to isolate themselves which can lead to depression.
“The best way for people living with dementia to remain well is to be socially active and engaged. But if there are barriers to that, such as discrimination, that all of a sudden doesn’t become an option,” she said.
Morris may have sold his tools but his life has expanded in new ways.
He and Lee-Anne run a Facebook group linking those with dementia and their carers with others around Australia and the world.
He also sits on numerous advisory committees including Dementia Australia’s.
And he’s picked up a new tool – a camera gifted to him by Lee-Anne.
He’s taken to it so well he now takes photos for community groups like the 7th Light Horse troop in Gundagai.
“Down the track if things deteriorated I might not know where it was or who they were (in the photo). But I could see that I did that,” he said.
“I want to tell anybody with some form of cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer’s – you can still live a life.”