John and Donna Hall at their home in Coutts Crossing. John has spearheaded a croquet day for people living with dementia and their carers.
John and Donna Hall at their home in Coutts Crossing. John has spearheaded a croquet day for people living with dementia and their carers.

Dementia diagnosis sparks croquet crusade

"WE DIDN'T ask for it to come but now we have it and it is life-changing like nothing else that has ever happened."

Last year, after almost 50 years of marriage, Donna and John Hall began a journey they never expected to make when a brain scan revealed Donna was in the early stages of dementia.

The diagnosis triggered a quest to learn as much as they could about the disease which directly affects 459,000 Australians.

They soon discovered a range support programs run by Dementia Australia, NSW Health and the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre, taking advantage of everything they could, especially the local peer support group run by Clarence Valley Dementia Outreach Service.

"This is peer support at its best, where everyone gets together and has a cup of coffee and a bit of a yarn and you can swap a few ideas and learn," Mr Hall said.

"It is not easy but you are not in this on your own."

Despite the help Ms Hall said it was initially confronting being in the early stages of dementia and being asked things she never imagined she would be asked, questions about her ability to perform tasks others took for granted.

"Going to these groups has been a good eye opener," she said.

"Everyone is at all different stages and I found it interesting because you get a better understanding of everything.

"I never even dreamt that this would happen where you couldn't even dress yourself.

"It does take a bit of acceptance."

Mr Hall said when his wife left hospital, she was finding it hard to get up and active, struggling with the added anxiety of the diagnosis.

But one day, after many attempts, he convinced her to join him for a game of croquet at Coutts Crossing Croquet Club, just around the corner.

The experience was transformative, and Ms Hall launched herself into the sport - even playing when her husband was not around to join.

She improved physically and mentally to such a degree that Mr Hall was convinced there was an opportunity to use their experience to help others with dementia.

The pair teamed up with Taree Brearly at CVDOS to create a social event for those with dementia and their carers at the Coutts Crossing Croquet fields on February 21 and March 20.

"There are a couple of people who are in advanced stages of dementia and I can see every one of them picking up a croquet mallet and going 'tap'," Mr Hall said.

"I guarantee there will be a smile on their face.

"I want people to see that there are people in the Clarence Valley (with dementia) and realise there are things for couples, no matter how far you are into this journey.

"There are people on the same journey, at different stages - come along and talk to us, we are trying to get something going here to support each other."

The event starts at 8.30am at Coutts Crossing Croquet Club followed by lunch at the Coutts Tavern. For more information call 1800 052 222.



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