22 Jun 2021
For CHeBA donor Francesca Wood it was a mixture of sadness and relief when her mother, Mrs Helen Reading, was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2017.
According to Francesca, it took a long time for her Mum to be diagnosed.
“There was a lot of denial that anything was wrong despite most of us around her acknowledging that all the signs were pointing to dementia.”
Francesca, who lives in Melbourne, said that the years between her diagnosis and her passing were extremely challenging.
“It was a slow mourning period watching my beautiful mum disappear.
“I felt a wave of relief when she passed, because she was released from the horror she must have been experiencing as a result of her memory loss and having to navigate what must have seemed like a foreign world,” said Francesca.
Born 18 April 1938 in Coogee, Sydney, Helen Reading was a kind and friendly mother of two who placed importance on her family, friends and her faith. Highly regarded and loved by her parish, Helen was well known for supporting community activities and by her loved ones as the glue of the family and the organiser of all family events.
Helen passed away during the COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne, on 25 May 2020, causing significant angst for the family who were then unable to hold an appropriate memorial service until almost a year later.
To endure the devastation of dementia in conjunction with a global pandemic that placed enormous restrictions on our visits to Mum before she passed was truly heartbreaking.
Francesca, a successful Reward Manager with bp, became aware of the research being conducted at UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) while attending a Chief Executive Women’s Leadership program in 2019.
“It felt extremely fortunate timing to meet Heidi Douglass at the CEW course. Her passionate delivery of the research being undertaken at CHeBA resonated with me and stayed with me during Mum’s last year.
“With Mum’s passing I wanted to do something positive in her honour that would be part of the legacy she left behind.
For Francesca, making a personal donation to CHeBA, arranging donations in lieu of flowers and her employer bp matching her donation through their charitable matching-funds program, has felt rewarding and an appropriate tribute to her Mum.
“There is a lovely connection with CHeBA given the research centre is located at UNSW Sydney close to where Mum was born and lived her early years.
I know Mum would have wanted to support research to stop this insidious disease so that other people in the future do not go through what she did.
Francesca says that the diagnosis of vascular dementia took almost five years.
“I noticed something wrong around 2012, when my Aunt – her sister – visited us in Melbourne. Over lunch Mum repeated the same conversation with me without realising she had done so. Later that same day Mum phoned me to say she was lost and asking me for directions which was very unlike her.
“Both of these instances concerned me but I remained uncertain. This commenced a slow and painful journey for the family to monitor Mum and ultimately acquire a diagnosis of vascular dementia.
“Although painful and distressing, the diagnosis meant Mum could access support and our family could now name the disease that was robbing Mum of her life as well as face the reality of the situation.”
|Helen and granddaughter Eloise
|Helen in 1982
|Helen as a debutante
Through her philanthropic support of research, Francesca ultimately hopes for a cure to this disease.
“In the meantime, I hope research finds the mechanisms to prevent and halt the ravages of this cruel disease that eliminates a person’s ability to know who they are, as well as increased community education and promotion of early diagnosis so that people with dementia get appropriate support.”
Francesca’s donation and the matching gift from bp will have an impact on research into vascular dementia at CHeBA.
CHeBA currently leads a consortium directly aimed to improve understanding and ultimate lead to prevention of vascular dementia. Co-Directors of CHeBA, Professor Perminder Sachdev and Professor Henry Brodaty, say it is generally claimed that vascular dementia accounts for 15-30% of all dementias.
“We are exploring several biomarkers to determine the most robust single or combined set of biomarkers to facilitate earlier intervention of vascular dementia,” says Professor Sachdev.
“These biomarkers will eventually be used in research as well as the clinic and will be a major advance in our fight against dementia.”
Helen Reading’s memorial was held on 22 May 2021. Donations to CHeBA were generously given in lieu of flowers. CHeBA’s Co-Directors Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder Sachdev as well as Heidi Douglass extend their enormous thanks to Helen’s friends and family – and especially daughter Francesca Wood and employer bp - for their philanthropic support of CHeBA’s research to change the future of vascular dementia.