Alzheimer’s robbed Jeanne Little of her life

Incredible people, like Jeanne Little, are born maybe once a century. Her energy, style and exuberant personality was truly one of a kind.

“She made the ordinary extraordinary,” remembers her daughter, Katie Little.
“Everyone wanted a piece of her time because she was so full of life, energy and inspiration. Who wouldn’t want to be around that?”

But Jeanne’s last years were a far cry from the colourful and fun world she once owned. Her family were robbed of her unique charm too early….

It started slowly. Forgetting small details. Bumping into tables. Buying a dress three sizes too big.

“Mum often did things that people found hilarious. So, when she asked me which way to put my son’s nappy on, I just rolled my eyes,” Katie says.

But the small signs soon added up to more serious symptoms, and at age 68, Jeanne Little received a diagnosis that changed her family’s life forever.

“Mum was the lynchpin that held our family together. She brought the love and laughter, and so when Mum got sick our whole family really fell apart. It was a disaster. I ended up not speaking to my father for three months during which time Mum was put into care. When I saw her again she didn’t recognise me.”

For Katie, one of the most difficult parts of losing her mum to Alzheimer’s is that Jeanne never got to be a grandmother to her three grandchildren.

“Mum would have just loved it! She did get a little taste with Tom and boy did they get up to mischief together. She would have absolutely loved my daughter Charlotte who loves clothes and fashion.”

But the disease stole Jeanne’s sparkle – all it left was a shell of the person she was, with a blank and distant stare. Jeanne Little held on for 13 long years in care, before she passed on 7 November 2020.

It ruthlessly strips you of your memories and traits that make you unique. Even Australia’s biggest personality didn’t stand a chance against the disease. Jeanne Little spent much of her last decade on earth not being able to walk, talk or feed herself.

Katie’s three children did not get a chance to get to know their fun and loving grandmother. They will have to rely on Katie’s memories and footage of TV appearances to get a glimpse into the extraordinary person she was. But the show must go on… Katie Little wants to make sure your family doesn’t have to lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s, like hers did.

“The worst part for me was when Mum had been diagnosed and nobody knew. As soon as it became public, people everywhere were telling me Alzheimer’s had affected their family too. That was hugely important to me as it was only then that I realised I wasn’t alone.

“And if Mum taught me anything it was that sitting around being miserable achieves nothing – so raising awareness of dementia and the need for more research has given me enormous purpose.”

By supporting NeuRA, you ensure that vital funds go to research – which is critical as there is still a lot of work to do. In 2020, over 450,000 people were affected by dementia and it is the number one killer of women in Australia. By 2025 the disease will likely cost the Australian health system over $18.7 billion – but the toll it will take on families is far, far greater.

While a cure or treatments are not currently available, NeuRA scientists have been working hard to reduce the risks – and prevent the disease all together. Professor Kaarin Anstey and her team have been working on developing a new risk calculator, CogDrisk.

The tool will allow individuals to assess their risk of developing dementia and clinicians to develop personalised risk reduction plans and interventions early and reduce the number of cases overall.

Her team have also developed an online course for older people who are experiencing mild cognitive changes or impairment. The MyCoach course offers advice, support and education, helping people improve their lifestyle and reduce risk factors.

Your help will mean we can keep refining these tools, share them more broadly and make them accessible faster. The power of many “When we support one another, we can lessen the burden, and by getting NeuRA on our side… Wow! we can really make a difference to risk reduction, prevention and clinical management,” Katie says.

Without investing in research, more and more people will suffer the devastating effects of dementia. , your support will power critical research into the disease, as the pursuit of treatment and a cure continues. As an organisation renowned for quality research, NeuRA successfully competes for grants to fund its projects. However, grants never cover all of the research costs so your donations are absolutely critical to enable the research to proceed.

“With your help, NeuRA can discover ways to prevent and cure this illness. So future generations don’t have to lose a loved one to dementia, like we did,” says Katie. “Mum would say, ‘Oh gosh dahlings, you’re all so generous and wonderful.’ And as her daughter, I thank you for helping keep my mother’s memory as vibrant and generous as she was in life.”

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