Living a wonderful life with dementia

Jeff Attwood and wife Doreen at their local bank, Westpac Howick where Jeff has been able to manage his finances independently thanks to Westpac’s Dementia Friendly Banking initiative.

Twenty two years ago Howick local Jeff Attwood had a thriving business as an electronic engineer.

He was fit and active and had just purchased his first Morris Minor car with big plans to restore and take it on a road trip around New Zealand.

But life had other plans for Jeff.

At age 54, he was diagnosed with early onset vascular dementia.

“Back then nobody knew about dementia and it was really hard to get people to understand what we were going through,” says Jeff’s wife Doreen.

“So many friends said to me, ‘but he looks perfectly fine.’ And it was sad because when you have a broken arm nobody questions it but when there is something wrong with your brain, people are sceptical.”

Jeff said he only had two options – give up or get on with it.

And it was an easy choice, he says.

“It was a big adjustment but I really wanted to continue doing the things I loved,” he says.

He decided to start with the Morris Minor car he had purchased and after he retired he focused his energy on restoring the old classic.

He later went on to travel the length of the country in it and enter the car in several car shows where it has won a number of awards.

Jeff, now 75, was able to keep driving for many years following his diagnosis and, until recently, did all his own banking at Westpac Howick.

Westpac is the first bank in New Zealand to develop a dementia-friendly banking initiative.

Westpac staff behind the counter are notified when a customer with dementia comes in so they can be more readily available to support their banking needs.

“It means so much to see people and businesses start to understand dementia and be patient and caring towards those living with it,” says Doreen.

Jeff has only recently handed over his banking to Doreen after a stroke made his cheque signature too shaky.

The couple also made contact with Dementia Auckland and says the support they have received has been immense.

Jeff participates in Dementia Auckland’s Cognitive Stimulation Therapy classes to help manage his dementia and improve his quality of life.

Through Dementia Auckland the pair has been able to connect with others going through the same experience and make lifelong friends through support and activity groups.

“The men’s group is my favourite because we get to play indoor sports and it brings everyone together,” Jeff says.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month and Friday September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day.

Dementia Auckland is running “get togethers” all across the city to open up the conversation lines about dementia and also to raise funds for the organisation.

  • For more information visit www.dementiaauckland.co.nz