Imagine having an entire community understanding dementia. There would be no need to hide the diagnosis due to stigma, there would be less isolation, the physical environment would be appropriate for people with dementia and people in the community would have the knowledge to help someone with dementia if there was a need. This is Graeme’s goal.
Graeme Atkins was diagnosed with younger onset dementia when he was 54 years old. Graeme tells his dementia story through his songs to help keep his brain active and to continue being involved in the community.
Graeme’s songs originate from the impact that dementia has had on him, the issues surrounding the stigma and the isolation of the disease, the diagnosis process, the pressure placed on carers, family and friends, the financial cost of this disease, and the lack of understanding of dementia across the general community.
Graeme and his partner Susan have shared their story through Graeme’s songs at more than 60 regional events. At one event, a man in the audience was crying. He was living with dementia. Being concerned about this gentleman, Susan asked him why he was crying. He looked at Susan and told her that he was happy that finally someone understood how he felt. Graeme’s songs relay the emotions and feelings of other people with dementia who sometimes cannot get their message across.
The songs are powerful, as they are coming from someone who has dementia who is able to understand and describe what is happening. The songs reflect the emotions and feelings of many other people living with dementia.
Music lights up many parts of the brain and is a great way to exercise the brain. With that in mind, Graeme and Susan continue to address issues about dementia via his music. Graeme’s latest song is about creating dementia-friendly communities across Australia.
One of Graeme and Susan’s biggest joys is performing at the Alzheimer’s Australia (NSW) Christmas party in the region during Christmas time. The Christmas sing-along at these functions is inspiring as sometimes a person with advanced dementia sings along to the well-known Christmas carols. These joyful events bring many smiles and much laughter to all who attend.
Graeme’s songs are not just about the feelings and the difficulties encountered, they encompass a broad range of issues surrounding a dementia diagnosis. Some of these songs are delivered with a touch of humour, while others dramatically tug at the heart. However, the message is always loud and clear – yes, I have dementia, but I am still here and I am a person, and yes I’m living well with dementia.
This article features in Alzheimer’s Australia’s First Steps to a Dementia-Friendly Australia booklet.