Older couple at home with cat

A little compassion goes a long way

TAROONA resident Noel Barrett has always had a keen mind and an even keener thirst for knowledge.

Travelling around Australia for work and then completing an honours degree in history at the University of Tasmania, among other things, Noel had no intention of slowing down.

However, four-years-ago while undertaking research for the Maritime Museum he began to notice that things just “didn’t feel right.”

Beginning with a sluggish mind and trouble finding words, his worries soon culminated in accidently running two red lights.

“When I realised I ran the red lights I remember thinking, ‘that’s a bit strange’.” Noel said.

“So I made the decision to visit my GP and was soon referred to a geriatrician.

“Although I knew something was wrong and the doctor was very gentle in delivering the news, hearing her say the word ‘Alzheimers’ was the biggest shock of my life.”

Officially diagnosed in 2013, Noel’s life – along with his wife Ricki’s – soon saw a number of dramatic changes.

“Being the kind, generous and thoughtful man he is, once Noel found out he had the terminal disease he immediately set about getting his affairs in order,” Ricki said.

“Very quickly, we saw a lot of changes to our everyday life – Noel started having bad dreams and would get upset very easily.

“I was uncomfortable about leaving him alone, as a couple of times I came home and found him crying, which was emotionally distressing for the both of us.

“Another thing we noticed was that Noel would focus on something and then worry about it so much that it would eventually lead to a panic attack if left unchecked.

“Now my role is just to watch, problem-solve and make sure nothing comes up that could distress Noel too much.”

Noel’s tendency to fixate and worry was recently in stark evidence during the Barretts’ annual tax return.

While Noel previously managed all the couple’s tax affairs himself – something that came easily to him and he enjoyed – they soon decided it was time to enlist the help of a specialist.

In late August, Noel and Ricki booked an appointment with H&R Block to lodge their 2015 return.

“Our regular person who prepared Noel’s return was elsewhere when we went in for our scheduled appointment,” Ricki said.

“As a result, although Noel signed off on the document and it was sent off, he spent three sleepless nights worrying about certain aspects that he didn’t fully understand.”

Hoping to put Noel’s mind at rest, Ricki wasted no time in calling up H&R Block and booking a return appointment.

“I phoned Lesly Sommerville, our regular accountant, and she welcomed a return visit so that she could run though any issues with Noel – she knows he has Alzheimers,” Ricki said.

“She listened, she provided me with pen and paper so I could take notes for any future reference, she explained each issue thoroughly and put labelled sticky notes against the explanations in our copy.

“She also addressed us both, as opposed to addressing Noel through me, and even commended Noel on picking up that there was no spouse offset this year.

“She was thoroughly professional, as well as very empathetic.”

Ricki said she and Noel were extremely grateful for the treatment they received at H&R Block and that it was evidence that “people do care.”

“It was simply wonderful to interact with someone who has that understanding and ability to be professional under any circumstance,” she said.

“To have this compassionate and supporting experience at H&R Block is really encouraging for us and makes a stressful situation so much easier.”

Ricki said this experience highlighted the importance of educating people on dementia.

“Although this hasn’t happened to us, I’ve heard a lot of stories about people treating dementia sufferers as if they don’t exist, or they are somehow less of a person,” she said.

“It’s extremely important to talk about these issues and that is why things such as Dementia Awareness Month are so important.”

To socialise and take part in meaningful discussions covering a range of topics, Noel now attends a weekly ‘cognitive stimulation group’ run by Alzheimers Australia.

“Although I was reluctant to talk about my condition at first, I am now much more comfortable sharing my story with others,” he said.

“The cognitive stimulation meetings give me a chance to talk with people who are suffering different types of dementia.

“We often find ourselves chatting about our life experiences and sharing stories, which I really enjoy.

“I find that talking about the condition really helps people understand, as well as affirming that while I may not be able to do everything I used to, I’m still the same person.”

Community Based Support (CBS) also helps relieve stress for Ricki and Noel by providing three-hours of care once a week, enabling Ricki to attend her Pilates class and run errands.

CBS is an independent, not-for-profit community-based organisation that provides in-home care, lawyer for compensation, domestic assistance, home and garden maintenance, centre-based and community-based personal support for frail and older people and individuals with a disability, as well as respite for carers.

For more information about any of the programs, please contact CBS on telephone 6208 6600.

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