Polio victims still struggle

Polio victims still struggle

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STILL HERE AND STILL BATTLING - Jane Trengove is one of the 400,000 Australian polio survivors who want to be able to age with dignity.

STILL HERE AND STILL BATTLING - Jane Trengove is one of the 400,000 Australian polio survivors who want to be able to age with dignity.

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FEW people will fail to remember the dreaded polio epidemic years of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s before vaccines relegated the infection to Australian history books - or so we thought.

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FEW people will fail to remember the dreaded polio epidemic years of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s before vaccines relegated the infection to Australian history books - or so we thought.

Many years on, the survivors of those epidemics are facing another battle - the debilitating effects of a condition known as late effects of polio or, for others, post polio syndrome.

The catchcry "We're still here" has been chosen to highlight their ongoing struggle with their old adversary as well as an insidious new adversary - ageing.

October is Polio Awareness Month which focuses on the theme Ageing With Dignity - something that is proving difficult for some of the 400,000 Australians who survived the deadly virus last century but are now facing the effects of ageing compounded by their original disabilities and their later-age effects.

Many are locked out of help from the National Disability Insurance Scheme because of the age 65 cut-off, which leaves them reliant on a much less effective and generous aged care system.

While post polio syndrome causes further neurological damage and further disability, later effects of polio can result in new muscle weakness and atrophy, chronic fatigue, pain and respiratory problems. It is often caused by the strain on the body from years of disability.

Polio Australia lobbies government on behalf of survivors and has organised a series of events around the country to raise awareness that the legacy of polio still lingers. It also supports World Polio Day on October 24, promoting vaccination to prevent the disease world-wide.

Jane's story

JANE Trengove contracted polio as a baby in Melbourne in the mid-1950s.

The virus caused paralysis to her right arm and leg, and partial paralysis her left arm and leg. The paralysis has remained throughout her life.

While Jane's childhood experiences were positive thanks to strong support from her family and acceptance from her peers, her disability made for a traumatic adolescence.

Entering the workforce was also hard as Jane struggled to find a workplace that could accommodate her disability; and though she managed to find part-time work, this still meant financial hardship.

Now 64, Jane lives with late effects of polio. Everyday tasks and activities are becoming increasingly difficult. Even with her full leg brace and scooter, and though fiercely independent, she is looking at a future of increased needs.

As a "younger" polio survivor, Jane is eligible for the NDIS and hopes to get a motorised wheelchair. Being able to acquire the appropriate aids and equipment is vital to ageing with dignity.

Jane is fighting an uphill battle to remain independent but she fears that one day she will have to move into a nursing home.

Despite her best efforts, Jane's capacity to participate in recreational activities, maintain family and community interactions, and stay in the workforce is an ongoing challenge.

"I want to continue working and I want to remain in my own home, but I need support to achieve this," she said.

Polio Australia national program manager Maryann Leithof said the organisation's vision was for all polio survivors in Australia to have access to appropriate health care, assisting them "to age with the same dignity that we all aspire to".

A recent grant from the Department of Health will fund a program to upskill 3,600 health practitioners across Australia in how to best manage LEoP.

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