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Doing it for dementia . . . Jill Macrae, who has cerebral palsy and a heart condition, will be carrying out a fundraising walk next week for Alzheimer's Awareness Month. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

When Jill Macrae noticed her elderly mother was developing dementia, it had more implications for her than most.

Miss Macrae, who has just turned 67, has cerebral palsy and a leaking heart valve, and had been cared for by her mother her whole life. So when her mother’s behaviour changed, the roles were reversed, and she had to “step up”, Alzheimers Otago community educator Debbie Melton said.

September is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and because of uncertainties due to Covid-19, the regular Memory Walk fundraiser has been cancelled. Instead, people are being asked to take up their own personal challenges and fundraise online.

Mrs Melton said when Miss Macrae heard this, she decided she wanted to do her bit, and decided to walk with her walking frame from her house in Taward St to New World Waitaki – a huge undertaking given her health issues.

“I said ‘Are you sure you don’t want to think about this, Jill?’ Two seconds later, she said ‘No’. Jill likes to do things,” Mrs Melton said.

When Miss Macrae first started noticing the signs of dementia in her then 91-year-old mother, she initially had a hard time convincing other people. She contacted the Alzheimers Otago Oamaru office and since then has been involved with both fundraising and volunteering.

“She has been a very valued member of the service,” Mrs Melton said.

Despite the challenges life has thrown at Miss Macrae, Mrs Melton described her as “fiercely independent”.

“And I love it,” Miss Macrae said.

Before her mother became unwell, she had been working for a long time towards moving into her own flat to live more independently. Those plans went on the backburner with the diagnosis. She had also written three poetry books and was working on a fourth.

There have been a lot of tears with the illness, and Miss Macrae was sad when the time came for her mother to go into care. But she said the way to get through the difficult situations was with “laughter and humour”.

The walk will take place on Wednesday at 10am, weather permitting. The estimated half-kilometre distance will be a huge challenge for Miss Macrae, and will be the farthest she has walked since high school. With her heart condition, she can overheat fast.

“When I get hot, I just lose it.”

There will be plenty of support for her along the way, and special care will have to be taken at road crossings.

“I’m not doing this walk for me,” Miss Macrae said. “I’m doing it for dementia.”

Miss Macrae is hoping to raise $1000. Contributions can be made at the Alzheimers Otago Oamaru office in the Community Health building in Coquet St, or by visiting alzheimersnz.grassrootz.com/move-for-dementia/jill-doing-it-for-dementia-in-oamaru.