Richard Grellman and his family’s journey with early onset Alzheimer’s disease

One of Australia’s corporate leaders has spoken powerfully of his family’s journey with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. 

One of Australia’s corporate leaders has spoken powerfully of his family’s journey with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Richard Grellman’s wife Suellen first started showing signs of the disease in her mid to late 50’s and was formally diagnosed five years ago. She is now being cared for at HammondCare’s Waldegrave House in North Turramurra.

Richard and Suellen had lived life to the full. For just on 32 years Richard worked at accounting firm KPMG - 20 years as a partner. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 2007 and has since chaired organisations, ranging from Genworth Mortgage Insurance, The Bible Society and The Association of Surfing Professionals.

In a moving video interview (see below) with HammondCare, Richard said it was a full five years before Suellen received her formal diagnosis, which he said was a common thing with Alzheimer’s disease. He recounted the advice of the specialist - "'While you’re relatively well, enjoy the time you’ve got'. It was refreshing actually – we were relieved. We knew we had to get on and live the rest of our lives in a year or two."

Deeply personal story

Richard Grellman decided to speak publicly of his family’s deeply personal story after joining other corporate leaders in the ‘Dementia Momentum’ campaign. It’s an initiative of The Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, based at NSW University.

"People I’m talking to are seeing this as much more than a tragic human issue. There’s a very deep economic issue here as well. It’s going to cost the country, taxpayers, a lot of money in the next 20 or 30 years."

A mad keen surfer, Richard will take part in the ‘Wipeout Dementia Surf Off’ this Saturday, May 23 in Sydney to raise funds for the ‘Dementia Momentum’.

With Suellen now in HammondCare's fulltime care, Richard says, "She’s very well cared for, she’s given the dignity of being allowed to take risks, so the staff isn’t totally smothering her."

Richard visits Suellen at Waldegrave House each day. "It’s not only what I want to do but it’s clearly my lot to be her advocate, her primary carer, her defender and her spokesman."

"She’s lost most of her language, she can’t do almost anything physically, but she’s still Suellen. So to frame our thinking in the way we deal with her – it’s just the same girl who can’t do as much as she used to do and that helps all of us continue to love her and stay with her."

View the full video interview: