27/09/2013 06:33 BST | Updated 26/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Live Life to the Max

Do you ever stop to think about the skills and attributes that are unique to you? More importantly, do you use them every day, setting yourself challenges and endeavouring to meet your goals?

Possibly not, or at least not often enough. Most of us are stuck in cruise control for almost our entire working lives, unless of course a major threat to our existence occurs, which is likely to be the only time that we are shocked out of that cruise control mode.

How many people have you heard identify a diagnosis of cancer or another life-threatening disease, a major accident, tragedy or becoming the victim of a terrorist attack as the moment they realised that cruise control was not the way in which they wanted to continue to live their life? It shouldn't take a life-changing event to alter the way we live, but sadly it often does. Even when we think we are utilising every resource within us, we may well be taking our ability to do this for granted.

A diagnosis of dementia is by anyone's standards the sort of life-changing event that is likely to bring about a major re-evaluation, partly because cruise control is really no longer an option. Over time a person with dementia will find themselves having to think carefully about that which was once routine, and work harder in just about every aspect of their life in order to stay afloat.

A friend of mine in Australia, Kate Swaffer, who is living with early-onset/young-onset dementia calls it 'paddling'. Trying to keep up with the demands of daily living and contribute to social interaction is, for Kate, about constantly paddling and, increasingly, paddling harder and harder. Kate appears to be as serene as any of us, gracefully gliding through life, but inside she is working frantically to keep up with conversation, interact, remain focused and ultimately find the energy to do the things that most people take for granted.


Kate Swaffer - Find out more about Kate and her work on her website:

Kate is using every asset she has to its maximum potential. How many of us could honestly say the same? She has taken the challenges dementia has thrown at her, and mobilised every resource she has to keep on paddling. Of her many achievements to date, she has pioneered the formation of the Alzheimer's Australia Dementia Advisory Committee. This group, comprising of 12 people who are living with dementia, aims to positively impact on the many challenges they and their peers are facing, and most importantly of all finally gives people with dementia a clear and powerful voice in Australia.

Listening to someone as intelligent and inspiring as Kate describing how dementia is affecting her is a privilege. Her insight and those of everyone who is living with dementia enriches and informs us all; it is only through hearing and reading these accounts that we can understand the lived experience of dementia better. This understanding is vital in another way too. It serves as a very timely reminder of just how much those of us who are not living with dementia actually take for granted.

Existing in cruise control, without dementia in sight, may afford us the advantage of not having to paddle, but are we really reaching our full potential? Ask yourself this: if you were diagnosed with dementia tomorrow, would you want to look back on a life of cruise control, when you were at the peak of your cognitive functioning and yet did not make the most of it?

Don't wait for life to change you, live it to the maximum now and in your own way paddle as hard as you possibly can.