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President’s charity to address one of Australia’s leading causes of death

Given its debilitating effect on judgement and her own personal connections with the disease, new president Juliana Warner hopes that the NSW Law Society’s elected charity for 2021 will see more lawyers support critical research and help end the harmful stigma around dementia for legal and non-legal Australians. 

user iconNaomi Neilson 17 February 2021 Big Law
Juliana Warner
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When Juliana Warner’s mother was just 55 – and at a time in her life where her children were grown and she could “start the best stage of her life” – she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s that robbed her “of the very things she needed to make sense of a terminal illness”: her speech, her memories and her ability to think. 

Speaking at the Opening of Law Term event, Ms Warner said dementia was like a “thief in the night” that started a long and difficult journey for her mother and for her loved ones. At the same event, she announced that the Law Society of NSW would be focusing its charitable efforts on donations and awareness for Dementia Australia. 

“It’s a very confronting illness,” Ms Warner told Lawyers Weekly. “It’s one of these diseases that is about to become so prevalent in our community and affect so many people that I think it is worthy of spending a lot of time and effort in trying to raise some funds for research and also raise some awareness about it.”

 
 

Every three seconds, someone in the world will be diagnosed with dementia. Just last year, an estimated 459,000 Australians were living with the disease and a further 1.6 million were involved in the care of someone affected. Even more family members and other loved ones went on the journey with them. 

It is the leading cause of death in Australian women and, in only two years’ time, is predicted to be the leading cause of death for all. Without a medical breakthrough, almost 900,000 Australians could be living with the disease by 2050. 

“It’s really challenging because since mum was diagnosed, there have been very few treatments that have been introduced and none that have actually made a significant change,” Ms Warner said. “There’s still a huge amount of work to do before you can find a cause for it. There are also some theories around but nothing really definite.

“One of the things that I thought was really good about the research arm of Dementia Australia – which is where I really want to raise funds – is that they’re concentrating on funding young researchers who are doing really innovative things and trying to look at it in a different way. I think that’s a really good approach.”

Since announcing the charity earlier this month, Ms Warner said she has been approached by many legal practitioners who have told her about their own personal connections with the disease – whether it’s their own parents or a close friend. Other than raising awareness for these affected people, Ms Warner said lawyers should consider supporting their own future health and wellbeing.

“One of the things about lawyers is that we are a profession that is involved in judgement – and of course, judgement is one of those things that is lost in the course as this disease progresses. It’s one of those things’ lawyers are quite fearful about. I’m [also] hoping because so many people do have a personal connection with this particular topic, it will stir some consciousness out there to help,” she said. 

For 2021, the Law Society will introduce events to assist the charity and will continue using its commercial kitchen to send out food hampers. The events will be more than about raising donations for the research arm of the charity as they will also include a focus on raising awareness of the disease to break a common stigma. 

“One of the worst things about the disease is that it makes people who aren’t carers really uncomfortable so one of the things that happens to people living with dementia is quite often they lose their friends, and they lose their social outlets, which is one of the things that people need to have a quality of life,” Ms Warner said. “They need a social connection, so I really felt like this was something that I needed to do.”

In ending her speech at the Law Term Dinner, Ms Warner urged the room of barristers, judges and solicitors to consider that while research for dementia may seem like a slow process, just one year ago many felt that a COVID vaccine would never come but already people around the world are “rolling up their sleeves”. 

“The past 12 months have forced us to rethink what is possible in terms of medical research and developing treatments,” Ms Warner said. “To give our scientists a fighting chance against dementia, we need to maintain a level of funding that allows them to carry out their work. To achieve this, we need your help.”

If you or your loved ones need further information or support, you can contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500. You can also donate to Dementia Australia and its research centre here.