Alzheimer's Australia CEO Maree McCabe shares story

LEADER: Maree McCabe, chief executive of Alzheimer's Australia, soon to be Dementia Australia, visited Alzheimer's Australia Tas in Launceston on Wednesday.
LEADER: Maree McCabe, chief executive of Alzheimer's Australia, soon to be Dementia Australia, visited Alzheimer's Australia Tas in Launceston on Wednesday.

Dementia is a cause close to the heart for the recently appointed chief executive of Alzheimer’s Australia, Maree McCabe.

Ms McCabe’s own father died with dementia about six years ago. She voiced concern about lingering stigma around dementia during a visit to Launceston.

Ms McCabe was appointed as the national CEO in February. She is trained as a psychiatric nurse and worked extensively in mental health.

“I loved working in the field,” Ms McCabe said.

Ms McCabe was in management roles in private psychiatric hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney.

She began working with the aged care sector in about 2001.

“I thought … it would not be hard to make a difference here,” Ms McCabe said. 

“One of the areas that really fascinated me was ... dementia.

Alzheimer's Australia CEO Maree McCabe and Alzheimer's Australia Tasmania's Michelle Dexter at a morning tea in Launceston on Wednesday

Alzheimer's Australia CEO Maree McCabe and Alzheimer's Australia Tasmania's Michelle Dexter at a morning tea in Launceston on Wednesday

“I was fascinated from the perspective of my mental health background.

“It was like, goodness ... I have nursed people over the years who have had dementia, and were not diagnosed.

“It concerned me that we were not providing the best quality of care … for people living with dementia … just because we didn’t really know enough.”

Ms McCabe worked with Alzheimer’s Australia, overseeing the Victorian branch as CEO before being promoted to national CEO. 

“It just seemed a perfect fit with my background in mental health and my experience in aged care, and I was really pulled to it because my dad had just died with dementia,” Ms McCabe said.

“If I had known then what I know now, our experience … would have been very different.

“Dad was very well cared for, but who really suffered was my mum, who was caring for him.

“What we know now is that people caring for people living with dementia have worse health outcomes than those caring for people with other chronic conditions … my mum died suddenly before dad.”

All state and territory boards of Alzheimer’s Australia organisations, except Western Australia currently, have agreed to be known as Dementia Australia from July 1. Ms McCabe said the new name would show the organisation is inclusive of all types of dementia, not just Alzheimer’s disease. 

“There are so many myths around dementia,” Ms McCabe, who is based in Canberra, said. 

She said dementia did not only happen to older people, and had a profound impact on people with the condition, and carers. Ms McCabe said the high level of stigma around dementia was “really concerning”. She caught up with Alzheimer’s Australia Tasmania staff at a morning tea on Wednesday to help inform strategies. 

National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500