Monday June 30, 8pm on ABC1
Introduced by Todd Sampson.
There’s a real sense of living in the now. I don’t do time travel any more, it just doesn’t exist... What really drove me was that stereotype about late stage dementia. It made me passionate about wanting to speak out. - Christine Bryden, dementia advocate
Christine is a medical puzzle that’s surprising everybody, including the leading specialists. She’s achieved way beyond what she was supposed to be able to do. - Paul Bryden, husband
Christine is one of these puzzling cases of dementia that we don’t really understand. I can’t think of someone I’ve seen quite like her: -Prof John Hodges, NeuRA , world leading researcher on fronto- temporal dementia
In the early 1990’s Christine Bryden was a brilliant biochemist and an advisor to the Prime Minister on science and technology.
Following up on her crippling migraines with her doctor, she received a shocking diagnosis. Early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Just 46 years old and a single mother to three daughters, she was told to get her affairs in order and retire from the world. “I was told I’d be demented in five years and dead in another three,” she says.
She rang her local Alzheimer’s Association only to be told that they didn’t have help for people like her, only for the carers. It lit a fuse:“No one was speaking out for us, there was no help for us, no support. We were assumed to be diagnosed and shipped straight off to a nursing home.”
Christine sought guidance from Anglican Minister Liz Mackinlay who urged her to write a book about her experience. It was the first time anyone with dementia in Australia had done so. Her profile grew and she became an in-demand speaker at conferences around the country. She was shaking things up – thanks to her, people with dementia were now getting support and being listened to. Empowered,Christine joined a dating agency and met her future husband, Paul Bryden.
A regular scan led to a reclassification of her disease as a type of fronto-temporal dementia and she was told that the progress of her disease seemed to be ‘glacially slow’. “I said, would I last long enough to see grandchildren and the doctor said, ‘Possibly, I don’t see why not.’ Which was the best news I’d had in a very long time,” says Christine.
Her death sentence commuted, she took her message abroad in 2003. Christine’s first TV interview in Japan drew an audience of over 10 million and she quickly became a celebrity. Despite having one of the highest rates of ageing in the world, the Japanese had never heard someone with dementia talking about their disease before.
Just this month, almost twenty years since her diagnosis, she was appointed by Ita Buttrose as the Qld Alzheimers Australia ambassador: “Christine is fantastic…you know she’s famous in Japan”, - Ita Buttrose, Alzheimers Australia.
Twenty years on from her first diagnosis, Christine is writing a third book and says her mission is to ‘future proof’ the next generation against dementia. .And she wants to hang on until they find a cure
Why has she survived? The doctors don’t t know. Christine believes that a combination of family, faith and medication has all helped. And she believes that by using her brain she has to some extent rewired what’s there. We might never know the answer.
Although her story of survival is rare her message is universal - it is possible to live positively with dementia.