My name is William Yeates, and I live on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. In August 2019, at the age of 59, I was diagnosed with younger onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
As devastating as this news was, I soon realised that if I was going to experience a quality of life that would sustain me as this disease progressed, I needed to make significant changes to my lifestyle. Besides modifying my diet and incorporating physical exercise and brain activities into my daily routine, I was convinced that I also needed to look at ways of becoming socially engaged and becoming part of the local community. I say this, because I experienced a loss in confidence following my diagnosis, especially in my ability to socialise with people.
Luckily, friend Tony Stewart approached me to become part of his ‘Come Together’ initiative. I found myself jumping at the opportunity. ‘Come Together’ was Tony’s novel idea of simply inviting people to say “Hello” to each other as they cross paths along a popular coastal walkway that connects South Curl Curl and Freshwater beaches in my area. This was exactly what I needed. Not only has it encouraged me to get out into the community, but by meeting people daily, it has also changed the narrow Alzheimer’s perspective of the world that I had developed. I now feel that my eyes, mind, and heart have been re-opened to all the other wonderful things that are happening around me. This, I believe is well expressed in Tony’s slogan:
You will never know if you don’t say hello
In becoming part of this initiative, I have learnt that the simple but friendly gesture of saying ‘Hello’ to another person is in itself a very powerful statement. Not only are you reaching out and inviting a person to start a conversation, but you are also acknowledging their presence in a caring way. You don’t have to stop and have a chat. You don’t have to become friends.
Just saying ‘hello’ to anyone who crosses your path, can create a habit that is contagious. When you make another person feel positive about themself, you are also encouraging them to behave in the same way. And before you know it, this simple example of social etiquette has become a very important step towards building a community, where everyone is valued and treated equally.
There is no doubt that though my involvement in this initiative, my life has become richer and more rewarding. By re-connecting with people on a regular basis, I feel that I am becoming more approachable, and I now enjoy the company of the new circle of friends that I have made along the way. In particular, my success in this journey would not have been possible without the tireless support and friendship of my care support worker, Daniela.
Bill Yeates (left) and Tony Stewart (right) with friends who have joined the “Come Together initiative”.