The Canberra Times

D-Man team set super-sized target for Dementia Australia's Memory Walk & Jog

Pete Colyer and some of the members of the Do it for D Man team at last year's Memory Walk & Jog.

This is sponsored content for Dementia Australia.

When the teams line up for Dementia Australia's annual Memory Walk & Jog events around Australia there's one in particular that always shows up in force.

Last year, more than 100 people joined the Do it for D-Man team putting their support behind 55-year-old Pete Colyer and his family, wife Jane and children, Ed, 25, Alistair, 24, Charlotte, 22 and Henry, 16.

The team raised more than $70,000 to help families living with dementia and fund the important research underway to find a cure. It's target this year is $80,000.

At 51, Pete, aka D-Man, was diagnosed with early onset dementia, one of approximately 27,247 Australians under 65 living with the disease.

The name D-Man is one that evolved after Pete's diagnosis and has become his special moniker.

"D-Man came from 'Dementia Man'....d for darling, d for dad, d for dementia," said Jane. "Pete calls himself D-Man all the time. It's kind of a nice thing, it makes him feel special."

Pete Colyer with his wife Jane, sons Alistair and Ed, and daughter Charlotte. Image: Supplied

Raising awareness

Jane said the Memory Walk & Jog had become an important event for their family, an opportunity to be active together, and to share their story with others to increase awareness about early onset dementia.

Dementia has affected Pete's mobility and balance preventing him from doing most of the active things he once did.

While his great love of tennis has kept him playing once a week he now has lost much of his desire to be active.

"The Memory Walk & Jog is pretty important," Jane said. "With everyone there egging him along, he'll get in there and do it.

"And this raising awareness is so incredible. It's a terrible disease whatever the age but there are so many little things that people don't think about for people getting dementia in this stage of life."

Devastating diagnosis

When the diagnosis of early onset dementia came for Pete, his first thoughts were about his family and the milestones he wouldn't be a part of.

Jane said one of Pete's first questions to his doctor was whether he would be able to walk his daughter Charlotte - who was still at school at the time - down the aisle.

Hearing the dementia diagnosis was a huge blow. "Pete burst into tears and said, 'I wish I had cancer'," said Jane. "He knew straight away that there was no cure."

Jane said the first signs of dementia had been subtle at first but became more marked as Pete's personality changed. Instead of the loving, gentle and patient husband and father he had been, he began to show anger and frustration instead. Other indicators included a series of car accidents for the usually good driver.

Son Alistair said he could see the differences in Pete's personality reaching back as far as 15 years ago. He mourns the loss of the father he knew and the future life events, like becoming a dad himself, that they won't be able to share.

"He won't be the same person standing there for those big things," he said.

"Dad loved taking us to sport and doing stuff with us. Then the dementia hit and he would get more angry and lash out which he never did before.

"[I miss] just having a real dad, someone that you can ask advice, and that loving guy."

For the family, being able to tell their story as part of their Memory Walk & Jog fundraising efforts had been a "powerful experience" they hoped was helping to dispel the myth that dementia is an 'old person's disease'.

When they shared the story on social media people who knew Pete from every stage of his life, even as far back as school, had reached out to the family.

"[People] were completely shocked but now they know that this can happen to younger people," she said. "[Our hope] is that one day they will find out what causes it and find a cure."

Get together, create a team, get active and help beat dementia. Registration is now open for the Canberra Memory Walk & Jog that's happening on 27 February at 8am starting from Barrine Drive on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Take in some of the city's most iconic sites along the route while raising valuable funds. Find out more here.

This is sponsored content for Dementia Australia.