Just say hello: how one Sydney man is tackling the social prejudice around people living with dementia
Jim takes his wheelchair-bound wife Maureen, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia four years ago, for a walk wearing a T-shirt that asks people to say “hello” to her.
Jim takes Maureen to the beach at Manly, 17km northeast of the Sydney CBD, around three times a week for a coffee, lunch, and a stroll from Queenscliff to Shelly Beach if the weather is good enough.
While on their walks, Jim began to notice his wife attempting to faintly say “excuse me” to people walking towards her and reach out for people’s hands which unfortunately went unnoticed.
Jim did not want Maureen to feel forgotten from the community where she had spent her life, due to her disease, so he had an idea to create a custom-made shirt, resulting in the couple becoming more approachable.
Since then, the pair has been pleasantly overwhelmed with how many friendly people from all walks of life are taking the time out of their day to come and say hello.
“What surprised me initially was that so many people were foreign tourists from all over the world,” Jim told the Manly Observer.
“I’d really like to thank all the people that have stopped by and had a chat to Maureen, they really brighten her day, which brightens mine… just today as I was walking along, a fella came up and wanted to buy me a cup of coffee!”
Jim and Maureen on their wedding day 55 years ago.
Jim was reluctant to be interviewed yet realised he had an important message to convey.
“I’m no expert, but as I walk along Manly Beach, I’ve been doing it for four years, I noticed a lot of people with some sort of handicap or were walking with a carer that looked lonely,” he said.
“I’ll go up to them and say hello, to have a chat to them and I think more people should do that and just notice the people around them.”