Informa Australia is part of the Informa Connect Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.


Thriving with dementia – how this man reinvented himself after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis

6 Apr 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

When renowned Dementia advocate William Yeates received his Alzheimer’s diagnosis at just 59 years of age, he entered a dark period of his life.

The former pharmacist, physics teacher, and deputy school head once took pride in his photographic memory and was able to recall the names of thousands of his students.

When he began to forget these – and even basic physics laws – he struggled to maintain a sense of purpose.

“I lost all meaning and motivation,” he told Informa Connect ahead of the National Dementia Conference.

“Shortly after my diagnosis, my friends and I planned a vacation to Japan and I remember thinking it was going to be my ‘last hurrah’ before things took a turn for the worse and I was inevitably put in a home. It was a dark time that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

However, William’s trip had a positive impact and he returned with a new mindset.

“We had such good fun and something within me shifted. While I was away, I reflected on a piece of advice my Dad gave me: ‘Everyone in life stumbles and falls. What makes the difference between you and others is what you decide to do when you stand up’.

“I realised at that point I needed to fight the disease.”

Laying the groundwork for reinvention

William’s quest to accept what he couldn’t change and build a new life was pivotal in this process.

“I knew I had to completely reinvent myself and shift my perspective from ‘what does society owe me?’ to ‘what can I give back to society?’ If I didn’t have many years left, then I needed to find a way to contribute while I still could,” he said.

William’s first step was to enrol in a novel clinical trial for a therapeutic drug that hadn’t yet been widely tested.

“Years of research on amyloid and tau hasn’t really got us anywhere in terms of a cure, so I knew I had to pick a completely different approach to the cause of this disease. I therefore decided to take the biggest gamble of my life and chose the anti-inflammatory hypothesis. If there was a miracle waiting to happen, it was more likely to be hiding there,” he said.

His second step was to maximise his own health and wellbeing in the hope of changing the trajectory of the disease. To this end, he created his own post-diagnostic care plan, in the absence of one being available through the public health system.

“In the absence of any formal post diagnostic support on how best to manage this disease as it progresses, I decided through my own research and experimentation to create my own holistic approach” he said.

Surpassing his goals

With this groundwork in place, William then decided to return as a volunteer surf life saver, after years out of service.

Qualifying the proficiency test was a challenge, he said, given the impact Alzheimer’s had on his motor skills.

“This a lesser-known side effect that affected me quite profoundly,” he said. “I struggled with paddling and swimming, so I had to get support from an exercise physiologists. They designed a program that helped improve my balance, coordination and reflexes.”

In turn, these efforts gave William the confidence to start competing in Masters Swimming and Surf Lifesaving.

He now competes at the local, state and Australian level and participated in his first international championship in Italy last year.

For him, competing has never been about a ‘podium finish’, but rather living a life he enjoys and is proud of.

“It has helped piece my life back together after the shellshock of the diagnosis and has taught me that I can still do things and contribute to the community.”

Despite having no expectations of a medal, William was thrilled to win third place at a recent state-level championship.

Giving back

William’s success and mindset has inspired others in his circle and he was recently approached by a teenage club member to train him for an event known as Champion Lifesaver.

He now coaches alongside his twin brother and has a range of teenagers under his co-supervision – one of whom has become an Australian champion.

This year, for the first time, nine of our competitors have qualified to compete in the national championships that are being held in Perth.
“Historically, only one or two of our state champions have qualified for the national championships, so this was a thrilling result,” he said.

Reflecting on his journey, William says his success didn’t happen overnight and would have been much easier if he had access to a reablement plan.

He is now calling for the Australian healthcare system to make these available to all people who are living with dementia.

“The term reablement has been thrown around for ten years or so, but there are still few healthcare providers that offer one specifically for people who live with dementia.

“For me this was a huge void, so I decided to create my own. I wonder how much easier things might have been if I was connected with allied health professionals, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and dieticians, from the beginning and encouraged to create a life that I value.

“Rebuilding your self-concept and maximizing your physical and cognitive abilities after a diagnosis is so important. It is the only thing that made me retreat from the darkness.”

William Yeates is part of the Advocacy program run by Dementia Australia and is Vice Chair of Dementia Alliance International.

He is due to present at the National Dementia Conference where he will share more details of his re-ablement pathway.

This year’s event will be held June 21-22 at the Crown Promenade Melbourne.

Learn more and register your place here.




Blog insights you may like

Get all the latest on Informa news and events

Informa Connect Australia is the nation's leading event organiser. Our events comprise of large scale exhibitions, industry conferences and highly specialised corporate training.

Find out more

Subscribe to Insights

Join Our Newsletter
Informa Insights

Stay up-to-date with all the latest
updates, upcoming events & more.