Val Fell was the primary carer for her husband, Ian, who lived with dementia from 2006 to 2013. Ian had been a Fairfax journalist for 40 years, retiring as the General Manager of the Illawarra Mercury (a newspaper in the Illawarra region of NSW).
After Ian’s diagnosis, they both became socially isolated due to dementia-related stigma. Val joined a support group for carers of people with dementia and found the social interaction, help, and advice from others with lived experience to be invaluable. After Ian passed away, she wanted to help others as she had been helped.
Val completed the Support Group Facilitator course with Dementia Australia in 2013 and formed the Corrimal Dementia Carers Support Group that same year. She continues to lead the group today as a volunteer and is greatly valued for her empathy, willingness to help, and expert knowledge of the aged care system.
Val has organised the annual Illawarra Public Forum on Dementia since 2012. This accessible event aims to provide information about dementia, dementia research and strategies to assist in the caring role. It also connects people living with dementia and their carers to support and advocacy services locally available. The 10th Annual Forum was held this week in Wollongong, NSW, and, at 93, Val is still active on the volunteer working party and spoke in a panel discussion.
Earlier this year Val was appointed to the new Council of Elders which engages widely on many aspects of aged care from the perspective of the quality and safety of care and the rights and dignity of older people. This year, Val received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), and in 2020 she was awarded Wollongong’s Senior Citizen of the Year. She also works tirelessly as a dementia advocate and ambassador for the Council on the Ageing (COTA) and the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN).
Val believes that education and knowledge have helped her to become a stronger advocate. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Dementia Care, having completed two Massive Open Online Courses in Dementia at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, University of Tasmania in 2017.