ALAN Gravolin became a carer for his wife Lyn soon after she was diagnosed with younger onset dementia while they were both their 50s.
It was hard to watch his wife deteriorate, but Alan encouraged Lyn’s love of painting and drawing so she could take comfort in her art. He also went to great lengths to help her live as normal a life as possible.
One day he had to explain that it was no longer safe for her to drive and developed strategies to divert her attention from wanting to get behind the wheel.
He watched as her art style changed as the dementia progressed, but was always there to help with her every need.
After nearly 20 years of caring it was necessary for Lyn to move into permanent residential care, but Alan still calls her every day and visits the lovely woman he shared his life with and used to enjoy camping and bushwalking with.
Alan’s dedication to caring for his wife, as well as the work he does helping other people going through the dementia journey with a loved one, has earned him the 2017 NSW Carer of the Year Award.
He believes the qualities that make a good carer include being able to walk with an understanding of what the other person is going through and what is happening to them, being a good listener, and being able to respond to situations without judgement.
He also believes it’s important to know when to ask for help and to be prepared to accept it.
Alan, 77, lives in Epping, and is a volunteer with Stronger Carers, a program run by Baptist Care. He visits other carers of people with dementia to help them through the difficult process.
“I advise them to take care of themselves – to look after their own health, to eat well and get enough sleep,” he said.
“Caring for the carer is so important. If you don’t look after yourself how can you look after the person you need to care for?
“I also advise them to have the legal stuff in place and I explain what dementia does and what happens.”
Alan’s busy volunteer life also includes being an experienced Lifeline counsellor and working with the Dementia Advocates program at Alzheimer’s Australia NSW.
He is active in his church and with community groups.
Announcing the award, Disability Services Minister Ray Williams described Alan is as “an outstanding carer who is an advocate and mentor. His commitment to his wife, Lyn, allowed her to remain at home for as long as possible and pursue her interest in art”.
Mr Williams said more than 905,000 carers in the state provided unpaid support to people with disability, chronic illness, mental illness, dementia or frail age.
NSW Carers Awards were also went to Gladyss Panoncillo, Lauren Mott, Maree Brindley, Kim Pow, the Sutherland Shire Carer Support Service and the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra.