Alzheimer’s bat­tle:

busi­ness­woman Colyn Dev­ereux’s dev­as­tat­ing disease


When Kiwi en­tre­pre­neur Char­lotte Dev­ereux’s mother was di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s disease six years ago, she lost more than just a par­ent; she lost her busi­ness part­ner and her friend. “When Mum first got Alzheimer’s it was al­most like go­ing through a death,” says Char­lotte. “She was very vi­tal and an in­cred­i­ble busi­ness­woman and she was also my best friend – I talked to her about ev­ery­thing. Los­ing that meant I lost Mum, and for about a year every day when I was with her I would cry.”

The mother/daugh­ter duo started Egg

Ma­ter­nity Wear in 2001 when Char­lotte was preg­nant with her first child Jas­min. Egg ex­panded into Aus­tralia and Asia and the pair worked and trav­elled in­ten­sively to­gether. Char­lotte first re­alised some­thing was wrong when Colyn started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some con­fu­sion and para­noia, and be­gan re­peat­ing her­self.

“It wasn’t im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous, be­cause peo­ple do re­peat them­selves as they get a bit older. I re­peat my­self,” says the 47-year-old. “But then she started telling me some­thing 10 times in a cou­ple of hours and I knew some­thing was wrong.”

Af­ter a num­ber of tests Colyn, a vi­brant grand­mother of 11 who as well as run­ning Egg was the chair­per­son of the Auck­land Cham­ber of Com­merce and tire­lessly men­tor­ing busi­ness start-ups, was di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s.

“The di­ag­no­sis was aw­ful,” Char­lotte says. “We knew some­thing was up but we just hoped it was mi­nor.”

Char­lotte is speak­ing to The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly from her mother’s home in cen­tral Auck­land, where Colyn lives with her hus­band Les Kay and their Labrador Coco.

Char­lotte comes here every Fri­day to look af­ter 73-year-old Colyn, who is now in the ad­vanced stages of Alzheimer’s and has lost the abil­ity to speak and walk. From Mon­day to Thurs­day Colyn is looked af­ter by Celia, a reg­is­tered nurse, while Les works.

“We are very for­tu­nate that Les has kept Mum at home,” says Char­lotte of her step­fa­ther.

OP­PO­SITE: Char­lotte and Colyn, with loyal Labrador Coco, who is of­ten by Colyn’s side. Although her ill­ness has robbed Colyn of her abil­ity to walk and com­mu­ni­cate, Char­lotte says she still re­sponds to mu­sic.

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