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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Property industry carves up surf to raise dementia funds and awareness

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Senior executives across Australia’s property industry along with 1999 World Surfing Champion Mark Occhilupo have joined forces to defeat dementia, with more than 50 organisations being represented in what will be the biggest Wipeout Dementia event to date.

Over the last two years, the global community has come together to meet the challenge of the COVID pandemic and has understood the necessity for collective intervention and together endeavoured to ‘flatten the curve’, however, the dementia curve remains unabated. 

An estimated 55 million people worldwide live with dementia and the number is expected to rise to 150 million by mid-century.

Wipeout Dementia ambassador Dr Richard Grellman AM, chairman of IPH Limited and FBR Limited, says that since the beginning of the pandemic another 100,000 Australians have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

Effectively tackling known risk factors for dementia could prevent up to one-fifth of new cases by 2025.

CHeBA co-directors Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder Sachdev

“This is anticipated to increase to over one million people by the middle of the century,” Grellman, whose wife Suellen has very advanced young onset Alzheimer’s disease, says. 

With dementia now the single greatest cause of disability in people over 65, senior executives across the property industry have banded together to raise $300,000 for critical research into prevention and earlier intervention of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA).

The March 25 surfing event, which supports research under The Dementia Momentum initiative at CHeBA, also aims to increase understanding about risk factors for dementia.

“Effectively tackling known risk factors for dementia could prevent up to one-fifth of new cases by 2025,” CHeBA co-directors Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder Sachdev, who lead a number of international studies addressing modifiable lifestyle factors of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, say.

Competitor in previous property industry events, and first-time team captain, AWM commercial furniture director Anthony Scotts is surfing at the Wipeout Dementia event in honour of his late father who lost a 20-year long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and for his sister who is significantly impacted by young onset Alzheimer’s disease.

His team, aptly named Bob & Jill’s Line Up, is a family affair – with his brothers and nephews, including Jill’s sons – all surfing in support of medical research.

“It’s horrifying to learn that since 2016, dementia has been the leading cause of death in Australian women,” Scotts says.

“That is particularly close to my heart as my sister is living in a home at just 66 years of age and she’s basically helpless.

“I’ve got to do everything I can to help her in every possible way.”

Fellow team captains who are also surfing in honour of a loved one include director of Avenor, Peter Clemesha, who is paying tribute to his uncle who passed away from dementia in 2018, deputy general manager of Aoyuan, Darren Beasley, surfing for his father-in-law who sadly passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, and Mirvac’s Craig Rodgers honouring his grandfather by naming his team Cliff’s Carvers.

Steve Watson, director of Steve Watson & Partners, is celebrating the memory of his father who passed away from Lewy Body dementia in early 2019; soon after Steve took his team to highest fundraising glory in Wipeout Dementia.

“It was terrible to see him robbed of his vitality,” Watson says.

“It’s pervasive, this disease, and not enough is being done given how debilitating it is.

“I would love to see more resources going to solving the problem of dementia in our society.”

Buildcorp’s NSW general manager, Michael Gordon, who has four employees in his team, is surfing in memory of his much-loved nan. 

“Wipeout Dementia is so important for me because my nan was diagnosed with dementia later in life, and I’ve currently got two very close friends whose parents have dementia.

“I don’t think I know anyone that hasn’t been touched by dementia,” he says.

These stories where lives have been upended and relationships destroyed further highlight the importance of research to prevent this devastating illness.

Where Wipeout Dementia has differentiated itself from most other charitable initiatives is that it goes beyond fundraising and seeks to galvanise the property industry to increase understanding and help raise awareness about dementia.

“It’s been terrific to see the level of support from my industry grow each year,” Peter Clemesha, who was instrumental in generating the swell across the property industry, says. 

“The aim is to raise money for critical research, but also to provide networking support for all of us that have experienced dementia in our families.

“The impact has been amazing.

“I don’t think the property industry has been brought together in such a unique way before.

“I think our industry is quite collaborative, so having an industry-specific Wipeout Dementia has been very successful,” he says.

For Scotts it’s a result of the culture of the industry and the fact that all funds raised go to research.

“It’s such a great bunch of guys and we all see it as a worthy cause.

“There are so many charities to support but 100 per cent proceeds of this event goes where it needs to go.”

Grellman says all funds raised in Wipeout Dementia go directly to research.

“With one in 10 Australians over the age of 65 now with a diagnosis of dementia and with the average delay between the onset of symptoms and a diagnosis of the disease being approximately two years, clearly, we need research across the full spectrum of the disease beyond drug treatments…

“[It must] include prevention strategies in early and mid-life to reduce modifiable risk factors associated with dementia, more timely diagnosis, better post-diagnostic support and effective end of life care for patients and their families.” 

According to Brodaty and Sachdev, the importance of lifestyle intervention trials must not be underestimated. 

Evidence indicates that Alzheimer’s disease develops over a 20-30 year period, which provides a significant window of opportunity with which to expand research around risk and protective factors during early and mid-life.

The undeniable truth is that this research needs to be conducted at a larger scale to establish more robust findings.  

“Our researchers are working on developing markers of brain disease before any manifestations of decline in memory and other cognitive functioning, so that we can develop strategies to truly prevent the development of dementia,” Sachdev says.

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