Anne Tudor OAM has been awarded Victorian Senior of the Year for her work campaigning for dementia awareness and inclusive aged care services for the LGBTIQ+ community.
Ms Tudor's wife Edie Mayhew was diagnosed with dementia at age 59 and the couple committed to sharing their story of dementia and accessing aged care services as an LGBTIQ+ couple.
Ms Tudor said she felt overwhelmed to be receiving the award and hoped it would open up discussions and create awareness of dementia.
"There is still a lot of misunderstanding, misinformation and stigma," she said.
"The work Edie and I did from 2011 was about providing support to others who were impacted by dementia, but then over time it become about improving services and encouraging others to become involved.
"To me, ours is an ordinary story. Sharing it to create awareness is what Edie and I wanted to do."
Ms Tudor, from Ballarat in Victoria's Central Highlands, initiated Australia's first dementia-friendly bush walk at Woowookarung Regional Park and has been working on the project since 2018.
The trail opened earlier this year and is being used 350 people a week, on average.
Ms Tudor said this would be a legacy for Ms Mayhew who died from complications of younger onset dementia in 2020.
The couple loved nature, marrying in the Californian Redwood Forest in the Otways and continuing their love of animals and bush throughout their lives.
"Both Edie and I have put our hearts and soul into that place. It is a beautiful place," Ms Tudor said.
"I have been there several times where there are three generations walking together. That is a great thing.
"Edie and I walked there many many times with Melvin (Edie's dementia support dog). I don't think she is very far away when I am at Woowookarung."
Ms Tudor said there had been interest from people across the country in replicating the concept.
She said she had been contacted by others also interested in replicating the Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance that Ms Tudor and Ms Mayhew initiated in Ballarat in 2016.
"A lot of the knowledge and documents I have can be passed on to others to take up the mantle and go forward in their own ways and areas," Ms Tudor said.
One dementia alliance set up in south east Brisbane is talking to its local council about ensuring the Brisbane Olympics is dementia-friendly.
Ms Tudor will continue advocacy to make Ballarat more dementia-friendly.
"One of the first things I noticed when Edie was diagnosed was how people thought somebody with dementia was an empty shell," she said.
"They used to think it must be so difficult for the carer but didn't give much thought at all for what it would be like for someone to progressively lose their cognitive capacity.
"The person who has dementia right until the very end is still there, in a very different way and a more restricted way.
"It is important to respect the person with dementia. They have their ideas and should be given choice.
"Often once they go into care there is no real thought about what their physical needs might be and what their emotional needs might be and the sort of stimulation they might need."
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Ms Tudor said there was a lot of stigma around dementia that needed to be broken.
"A lot of people speak about dementia under muffle breaths or make jokes about having dementia because they have forgotten something. There is so much more that people need to understand," she said.
"Often for people with dementia and their carers, their social circles shrink.
"Most people don't feel comfortable, they are caught up in their own thoughts and feelings where it is actually about the other. Tot talk to someone with dementia, you just talk, it is nothing special."
Ms Mayhew moved into residential care in 2018 and lived the last 18 months of her life there.
Ms Tudor said Ms Mayhew's dementia assistance dog Melvin brought a lot of joy to all residents, many who were lonely and did not have many visitors.
"Edie was much loved in residential care and several carers told me how much she taught them so much about dementia," she said.
"Edie was a woman of few words, but when she spoke, everyone listened."
Ms Tudor said she would continue pushing for changes she recommended in her submission at the Aged Care Royal Commission.
"There was an interest in the royal commission how people from the LGBTIQ community with dementia can be supported," Ms Tudor.
"Senior people in the LGBTIQ community have had a chequered history with services and a lot of people have experienced discrimination so they don't have a lot of confidence going to services.
"But a lot of improvement is happening in that area and there is a lot more recognition around the needs of individuals, of seeing each person as unique and each dementia as being different."
The Victorian Senior of the Year Awards are presented annually as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival.
Award recipients will be celebrated in person with a ceremony at Government House in early 2022.