Valma Fell's life was touched by dementia three times; first, when her brother-in-law was diagnosed with the "new illness" of Alzheimer's in the 1960s, again when another brother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimers decades later, and finally when her own husband, former Illawarra Mercurcy general manager, Ian Fell, was diagnosed in 2006.
"We had very different experiences - treatment changed a lot in that time," she said.
"But what didn't change was the fear and misunderstanding around the word 'dementia'.
"Friends would ask me how he was, but they wouldn't come around to have a cuppa with him."
Val now works tirelessly to make sure the elderly, inclding those with dementia, get the care they need.
She says that care isn't just physical, it's social and emotional too.
As the aged care sector continues to struggle with COVID, inadequate funds and poor wages, she fears the first things to go are those most critical to residents' quality of life - enrichment programs, and time for staff to pause for a chat.
"You can't run aged care services without a workforce," Val said.
"We need to consider the immediate crisis, but we also need to consider the long-term crisis."
The dynamic 93-year-old, who still lives at her home in Figtree, said support for elderly people to live independently was also critical to alleviating pressure on the aged-care system.
She hopes the federal budget, due to be handed down on March 29, will include additional funding for aged care, as well as home care packages for elderly who are well enough to live independently with some help.
"Older people, and people with dementia are still people," she said.
"They deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any other person."
Member for Whitlam Stephen Jones said the investment that had begun following the Royal Commission into Aged Care needed to continue.
"There must be permanent funding for home care packages, and funding for permanent wage increases in the aged care sector," he said.
In February Mark Sewell, the chief executive officer of Warrigal Care, said he had applied for help from the Australian Defence Force for the organisation's Mount Terry home in Albion Park, where 22 residents and 12 staff members had COVID.
"We've been through hell and back, but we are coming out now, and just hope the state and federal government learn the lesson that you can't change public policy without protecting the most vulnerable first," he said at the time.
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