Saturday, 15 September 2007

The Lane Cove Tunnel runs from near Artarmon at the top of the freeway matrix that flattened the suburb of Naremburn in the 60s. It is 3.6 kilometres under several expensive suburbs that slope down to an arm of Port Jackson. It exits at Epping Road near the M2 Motorway.

You can use a credit card to buy an 'e-pass' online that allows you to travel in the tunnel. A camera snaps your number plate during the trip, and the image is processed so a deduction is automatically made.

My goal on Tuesday night was a student amenities building (SAM) at Macquarie University, where a talk on dementia would take place. The published start time was 6pm. My tute ended at 5pm and I made straight for the carpark then crossed Broadway down Bay Street, turned right at Wentworth Park, left into Wattle Street, and right into Fig Street and the Harbour Bridge approaches.

From the city, then, to the LCT exit was uninterrupted progress taking, say, 15 minutes and this constituted the bulk of my trip. Cars such as the Lexus LF-A (pic) were overtaking me in the tunnel, where the speed limit is a pedestrian 80km/h. The traverse is smooth and my car wanted to go faster. I let the BMWs and Lexuses cruise past: let them get booked.

But from the Epping Road ramp to the campus was a solid mass of traffic and despite it being only a couple of kilometres, this part of the trip took another 15 minutes. So I arrived on time, parking as instructed by an info sheet organisers made available.

Two people stood out because they are experts in dementia care. Alan Powys spoke at the front of the room to the 11 people who attended. Questions came faster and the session got really interesting. Everyone had a story about the disease. Elizabeth Latimer Hill, a Macquarie Uni teacher, sat at the back of the room and spoke up from time to time.

Dementia is something I am interested in as we're doing a media campaign on it for an assignment. But it also looks like dad may be going there. His sister, my aunt Sally, died five years ago not knowing her husband, who would go to visit her daily. My uncle, mum's little brother, now lives in a locked section of a nursing home near Castle Hill.

It's in the family and very likely to take me.

Prevention and care are two elements of the disease that are becoming better-known. All up, there's about a 30-per-cent awareness that lifestyle choices can increase or decrease risk of succumbing to the disease. Journalists are generally knowledgeable but the broader community remains pretty ignorant about dementia, the most common form of which is Alzheimer's disease.

It is impossible to know for sure what form of dementia exists until death, when an autopsy can show the pathology. However, there are indicators, especially behavioural ones, clinicians rely on to diagnose and medicate.

From onset to death takes about five years, but proper care can extend life to eight, in some cases. Unfortunately, 'in some cases', though unsatisfactory, is about as accurate as experts can be.

I plan to drive up to Queensland in November or December to see mum and dad. Last time we spoke on the phone, he asked me when I was coming up. When I told him, he said: "I might not be around then."

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