Tragedy focuses family’s attention on dementia issues

Posted at 9:57am Wednesday 06 Nov, 2019

The McClennan family is looking into ways to bring positive changes to dementia care and support, following the death of their ‘Da', Mike McClennan. Hundreds of locals helped support the family and joined the search when Mike went missing.

Although 75-year-old former Kiwi league player Mike McClennan had suffered from dementia for around seven years, his family first became aware how bad it had become after Mike collapsed at a Hibiscus Coast Raiders game in Stanmore Bay in August (HM August 21).

Mike's son, former league player and coach and now Raiders coach Brian (Bluey) McClennan says although the collapse was not connected to dementia, doctors who looked after Mike following the incident told the family that his dementia had reached a severe stage.

“They couldn't believe mum and the family had been caring for him all that time,” Bluey says.

As a result, Mike was placed in Milton Court Resthome last month, initially with additional support from North Shore Hospital specialist nurses.

He had only been at the Orewa facility a few days before he went missing.

CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts show him walking, at a hectic pace, from Orewa in the direction of Hatfields Beach.

The family is tight-knit – three generations live just one house apart in Manly – and is well known locally.

For a week, Police, Search and Rescue teams and a large contingent from the local community searched for Mike. His body was eventually found in dense bush on October 22.

“Dad went right up the top of a hill into the bush. When we drove there later to see where he had been, we were astounded – he was obviously on a mission, crashing into the bush, and must have walked himself to a standstill,” Bluey says. “For us, what hurts more than anything is the pain of knowing he was lying in the bush.”

Bluey says the family is humbled by the community's support, and grateful for it.

“To have people that you had never met before bring food to the search teams, as well as seeing so many who took the time to join the search, was incredible. We were encouraged by the community spirit,” he says.

As they grieve, the family is seeking ways to prevent this happening to others.

“There is so much more research to be done in and around people with dementia and their care,” Bluey says. “It is a problem that is growing fast.”

Mike had a number of severe concussions while playing league and Bluey says the family, who love the sport, discussed donating Mike's brain for research to improve scientific knowledge about the relationship between head injuries and dementia. Although that wasn't possible, Bluey says they are looking at other ways to support further research. They are also investigating how to work towards health reforms and having standards of care set in each resthome.

“We want to bring some positive change,” Bluey says. “We feel we owe it, not just to dad, but to the community that helped us.”


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