A Tribute to Jean Nesbitt

05 Oct 2020

Jean Nesbitt Family

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

In 1945 when Australians were celebrating the end of the Second World War, a baby girl was born west of Sydney, in Granville. Her parents named her Jean.  

65 years later and with three loving sons, seven grandchildren and more than 50 years of a strong and happy marriage to husband Len Nesbitt, Jean was diagnosed with vascular dementia – the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. 

On Friday, 11 September, just over 10 years since she was first diagnosed, Jean’s family said their loving goodbyes at a beautiful memorial held near their family home.  

It was his Mother’s diagnosis and his Father’s ensuing dedication to her care that led Geoff Nesbitt to the Centre for Heathy Brain Ageing’s Wipeout Dementia campaign. He would go on to raise close to $10,000 for CHeBA’s research in the corporate surfing fundraiser and be featured on the front cover of the local newspaper in tribute to his Mum. He even competed alongside 17-year-old son Lachlan in the first inter-generational Wipeout Dementia held in 2019.

By the time Geoff became involved in Wipeout Dementia, Jean’s dementia was at an advanced stage. As such she was never aware of his extensive charitable support in her honour. 

According to Geoff and his brothers Steve and Pete, their Mother was a warm and embracing person who was dedicated to her family and always had a smile on her face. 

She was utterly selfless and would always put the needs of her sons and husband first.

Geoff Nesbitt, Director of CFO advisory group, JamisonYork 

“We were extremely fortunate that Mum wanted to be a home-maker. She made a conscious decision to sacrifice her career when we were young to manage all of us. When I reflect on her life, I’m so very grateful for what she did and for all the love and support that was always readily available,” says Geoff.  

Jean Nesbitt Geoff Nesbitt

A young Jean getting into the Christmas spirit

Jean's son Geoff and grandson Lachlan at the 2019 inter-generational Wipeout Dementia

Jean, who was an avid gardener during her home-making years, went back to work during her 50s at a nursing home in Sydney. 

In a sad twist of fate Jean witnessed and cared for many people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, so when her own diagnosis came at age 63 she was well aware of what was in store. Sadly, Jean had even cared for her own Mother with Alzheimer’s up until her passing. 

Understandably, this knowledge of the disease process made the diagnosis extremely upsetting for Jean and for the rest of her family.  

Mum initially recognised a change in her eyesight.

Geoff Nesbitt

“She noticed small black spots in her vision and sought to have some tests soon thereafter,” he said.  

Jean and Len hadn’t long moved from Sydney to Hallidays Point on the Mid North Coast after both retiring and preparing to enjoy their retirement together, with plans of overseas holidays and adopting the grey nomad lifestyle in their new campervan.  

According to Geoff the family almost felt ‘robbed’ following Jean’s diagnosis, which occurred only a few years after her own Mother had passed away. Despite being a positive family generally it felt unfair. 

“The disease is indiscriminate and it is heartbreaking to witness a person you love with every ounce of your being slowly deteriorate mentally and physically,” says Geoff. 

“To say it was devastating is an understatement, but we all knew it was important to make the most of what time we had with Mum, however long or short that was going to be.”

CHeBA leads a global research consortium which aims to improve understanding and ultimately lead to possible prevention of vascular dementia. According to Co-Directors Professor Perminder Sachdev and Professor Henry Brodaty, it is generally claimed that vascular dementia accounts for 15-30% of all dementia. Further, cerebrovascular disease is a common co-occurrence with other brain pathologies and the total contribution of vascular pathology to dementia may be as high as 50-70%.  

“We are currently exploring several biomarkers to determine the most robust single or combined set of biomarkers to facilitate earlier intervention of vascular dementia,” says Professor Sachdev. “The expectation is that in five years, these biomarkers will be used in research as well as the clinic and will be a major advance in our fight against dementia.”

Although Geoff and his family miss their Mother and Grandmother, their gratitude to Len Nesbitt is immense. 

Dad was not only Mum’s husband and lifelong companion, but an extraordinary man who dedicated all of his time and energy to look after Mum and ensure she was as comfortable as possible at home.

Geoff Nesbitt

“He always maintained he would never place Mum in a Nursing Home and would instead care for her himself up until the very end, which he did.”

Jean passed away peacefully at their home on the morning of Wednesday, 2 September.

Jean (front centre) and Len Nesbitt (back right) with son Geoff (back left) and his family

Jean Nesbitt’s funeral was held on Friday, 11 September. Donations to CHeBA were generously given in lieu of flowers. CHeBA’s Co-Directors, Wipeout Dementia Ambassadors Richard Grellman AM and Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew AM extend their enormous thanks to the Nesbitt family for their support of CHeBA’s research.