Voice of Real Australia: Making different memories with grandma

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TOGETHER: Jo Byrne says her mum is still a beautiful, wonderful lady.

TOGETHER: Jo Byrne says her mum is still a beautiful, wonderful lady.

Jo Byrne grieves for the fact her mother will never be able to look after her grandchildren like other grandmothers do.

Or that they cannot just duck out for a coffee and yo-yo biscuit at their favourite neighbourhood cafe in Ballarat.

But Jo's mum Tricia is still there for her children and grandchildren, just in a different kind of wonderful relationship.

For so long, Jo felt the need to cover for her mum and protect her. Jo is starting to speak up now in a bid to break the stigma about dementia, particularly younger on-set dementia for other families with similar experience.

Tricia was in her early 60s when she was diagnosed after doctors had initially written off symptoms as likely anxiety or depression-related.

A new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report estimates 386,200 Australians are living with dementia. This is expected to double in about 30 years.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a large number of conditions that impair brain function, according to AIHW, and was the second-leading cause of death in Australia behind coronary heart disease.

The report shows about two-thirds of people living with dementia are female and, while dementia is often typecast an older person's disease, about 27,800 Australians with dementia are less than 65 years old.

This stereotype is what hit Jo hard when her mum was diagnosed.

She never expected it would impact someone in their 60s who was as vibrant as her mum.

"It's so hard losing a best friend. She is here and she is wonderful but it's hard when mum is not interacting in the same ways and doesn't do the same things," Jo said.

While Tricia might not be able to look after her grandchildren alone, she can still have playdates with her young grandchildren.

Little Harriet and Rupert love to do colouring at the kitchen table in the nursing home where Tricia lives. They can help themselves to plenty of sweet treats and watch movies.

And Jo can still enjoy a cuppa and yo-yo biscuit with her mum, just in a different setting.

"Dementia is unfair. It is taking away a beautiful mind," Jo said. "But we need to embrace that difference."

Ballarat in Victoria's Central Highlands is home to Australia's first dementia-friendly sensory trail walk in a regional park.

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