Alumni Update | Issue Four 2014
Profile
Kate Swaffer
Writer and international dementia advocate
Bachelor of Arts (Writing & Creative Communication) 2009, Bachelor of Psychology 2010

Kate Swaffer is a writer, poet, blogger and advocate of dementia, whose own health issues sparked an admirable but accidental career reinvention. At 49 she was diagnosed with a rare younger onset dementia. Just four years earlier she underwent neurosurgery to treat an Arnold Chiari brain malformation. Up to that point, Kate had built successful careers as a nurse, a health care sales executive and a chef in her own food business.
Kate Swaffer
Her illnesses may have spelt the end of those career pathways, but they inspired a new one in advocacy and community service.

“My illnesses have increased my humility and my concept of humanity – and while I still have a voice, I feel a responsibility to speak out for those who don't,” Kate says.

“Stigma and discrimination is still very real amongst the community, employers, the health care sector, and even in the organisations who claim to advocate for us.”

“I speak out to raise awareness, change perceptions of dementia, and break down barriers caused by the stigma and discrimination.”

The central point for Kate’s work is her extensive website and blog, which has been archived in the PANDORA Collection of the National Library and South Australian State Library and is a globally-recognised academic resource. She is currently working with a UK publisher on a book about her experiences living with dementia and is preparing the release of two poetry volumes, to go with one she has already had published. Her story My Unseen Disappearing World was performed as a theatre production at the 2012 Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Kate also consults on dementia education programs at institutions including the University of Edinburgh, the University of Tasmania, NSW DementiaCare, and Domiciliary Care SA. In her local Adelaide community she volunteers for The Big Issue and The Bereaved Through Suicide Support Group.

Academic study has also become a main feature of Kate’s post-diagnosis work; she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Writing & Creative Communication) and a Bachelor of Psychology at UniSA and is now studying a Master’s of Science in Dementia Care. Currently one person is diagnosed with dementia every 4 seconds around the world, and Kate hopes she can lead other diagnosed people to empowerment.

“People with dementia should accept the symptoms as disabilities to be managed, rather than a pathway to death which is how it is currently perceived,” she says.

“I hope that by example, I can show other people with dementia they can still live well with it; that they don't have to give up their pre-diagnosed lives.”

“Learning new things, continuing to study, and advocating for myself and others has been imperative to my sense of well-being, and I believe the reason for the slow progression of the disease.”

Alongside her personal work, Kate is Chair of the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Advisory Committee, a working group of people with dementia who drive national policy and projects. She is a co-founding board member of Dementia Alliance International, and a member of the Older Person Clinical Network in SA which helps develop the national and state-based Dementia Framework.

Kate is also regularly invited to speaking engagements; she delivered a keynote speech to the 2012 Biennial Alzheimer’s conference in Wellington, and is scheduled to present again at the Alzheimer’s 2014 conference in Puerto Rico, having presented at ADI2012 in London and again at ADI2013 in Taipei. She also spoke at the 2011 Alzheimer’s Australia Fight Dementia national campaign rally.

Visit Kate’s blog at http://kateswaffer.com/daily-blog/, and the Dementia Alliance International website at http://www.dementiaallianceinternational.org/.

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