Property industry joins forces to defeat dementia

Australia’s property industry and 1999 World Surfing Champion Mark Occhilupo have teamed up in what will be the biggest Wipeout Dementia event to date.

HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

Senior executives across Australia’s property industry and 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 in full force to meet the challenge of the covid pandemic. We have understood the necessity for collective intervention and have 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. 

“This is anticipated to increase to over 1 million people by the middle of the century,” says Dr Grellman, whose wife Suellen has very advanced young onset Alzheimer’s disease. 

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 25 March 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,” say 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.

Wipeout Dementia event is sponsored by Morgans, Avenor, Aoyuan, AWM, Winten Property Group, Buildcorp, Shape Australia, Sense Projects, m3property, Kennards Hire, Colliers International and Hurley, and has a number of surfers with tragic dementia-related stories to share.  

Competitor in previous property industry events, and first-time team Captain, AWM Commercial Furniture Director Anthony Scotts is surfing 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 sons of Jill – all riding the wave in support of medical research.

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

Anthony Scotts, Director, AWM Commercial Furniture

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

Fellow Team Captains that 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,” says Watson. “It’s pervasive, this disease, and not enough is being done given how debilitating it is."

Steve Watson, Director, Steve Watson & Partners

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

Buildcorp’s NSW General Manager, Michael Gordon, who has four Buildcorp 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,” says Gordon.

Many newcomers to the property industry event have similar, painful stories to share.

Just recently in 2021 Jim Hunter, Director at Capital Corporation, lost two grandparents to dementia.

One year prior, at the start of the pandemic, Southern Builders Carpenter Aaron De La Harpe lost his grandfather to dementia.

General Manager of Ziff Davis, James Whitehead, lost his grandmother following years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

“I feel honoured to surf in her memory and raise awareness about the relationship between physical activity and the prevention or delaying the onset of dementia."

“It is vital that we make greater strides in understanding, preventing and ultimately eradicating this disease,” says Whitehead.

Over the past 3 years, James Martin of LBJ Fitouts has witnessed his uncle crippled by the impact of dementia and Parkinson’s disease. “It’s devastating to watch,” he says. “The effects of these two diseases have taken complete control of his body and mind.”

Colin Beckton, Deputy Fund Manager at Lendlease and surfer in the m3property sponsored team, is witnessing his Father-in-law’s struggle with the disease.

“He is 80 and was in reasonable health until being treated for skin cancer with radiation about 18 months ago. Following the treatment, his dementia rapidly deteriorated."

“He is now in the later stages and not doing well."

“This has exponentially raised my awareness of the disease and made me realise how difficult it is for the families of those impacted to see their loved ones deteriorate.”

"To surf in Wipeout Dementia and raise money for research feels like the right thing to do."

Colin Beckton, Deputy Fund Manager, Lendlease

Fiona Hunt lost her dear Dad, Leo, in 2015 following what seemed to their family an eternity of living with dementia.

“My Dad was proud, a gentleman, very polite and very old fashioned."

“I miss him immensely and still shed tears for both of us; I know he would have been embarrassed if he was aware of what this cruel disease had done to his mind.”

Fellow first time surfer in Wipeout Dementia, Maha Metwally, also lost her Dad to Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Maha, her Dad was one of the most intelligent people she knew.

“He achieved a lot at a very young age – a PhD at 23 and became a Professor of Economics at 38. His list of accolades goes on,” she says.

“He was always using his brain.”

Maha soon found that her Dad was asking her for advice on better recall.

“He would tell me he was forgetting words. I didn’t realise the extent of his illness until my sister and I took him for cognitive assessment.”

“Eventually he had to go into a dementia unit and it was pretty much downhill from there."

“The next seven years was torture for everyone involved. Torture for my father trapped in his healthy body without a voice or functioning mind, and torture for his children who longed to be with the dad that they once knew."

"It was especially torturous for me … our relationship had become so much stronger as I had got older.  He had become just a shell of what had once been and more than anything I miss him."

Maha Metwally

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,” says Peter Clemesha who was instrumental in generating the swell across the property industry.  

"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."

Peter Clemesha, Director, Avenor

“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,” says Clemesha.

For Anthony 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% proceeds of this event goes where it needs to go.”

“Each year has been fabulous to see how many sponsors are coming on board and contributing to the cause,” says Steve Watson. “It’s a healthy sign of a good business if it gives back to society.”

Richard Grellman confirmed that 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 2 years, clearly, we need research across the full spectrum of the disease beyond drug treatments, to include prevention strategies in early and mid-life to reduce modifiable risk factors associated with dementia," says Grellman.

"We need more timely diagnosis, better post-diagnostic support and effective end of life care for patients and their families."

Dr Richard Grellman AM, Wipeout Dementia Ambassador

According to CHeBA Co-Directors Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder 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 us with a significant window of opportunity 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,” says Professor Perminder Sachdev. 

 

Ambassadors for the event are 1978 World Surfing Champion Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew AM and Richard Grellman AM.

Surfers in the 25 March Wipeout Dementia event hail from many organisations across the property industry: AJW Interiors & Construction, Aoyuan International, Arup, Aspire PDM, Avenor, AWM Commercial Furniture, Bates Smart, Buildcorp, Capital Corporation, CBRE, City of Parramatta Council, Clinton & Co, Colliers International, Developed, Finance House, Jacobs, JAltCap, Kaddi Project Management, LBJ Fitouts, Leftfield, Lendlease, LJ Hooker Palm Beach, m3property, Marsh, Metrics, Mirvac, Morgans, Moxham Commercial, Neeson Murcutt + Neille, Richardson & Wrench, Richards Elliot Estate Agents, RJ Media, Root Partnerships, Rose Bay Public School, SBC Plumbing, Sense Projects, Shape Australia, Southern Builders, Steve Watson & Partners, Total Construction, UBS, Winten Property Group, Workrooms, Ziff Davis, Diageo, Essential Surf.

This event has had significant inkind support from: DHD Surf, Bondi Beach Public Bar, Bistro Rex, Bounce Foods, Catering Project, Destination Towels, Dripping Wet Manly, Fine Fettle, Garfish, iFly Australia, Loving Earth, Monster Health Food Co, Pilu at Freshwater, Protein Puffs, Samsonite, Slim Secrets, Tesalate Towels, Three Blue Ducks and Tidebreak Art.