Jeanne Little hasn’t been seen on Aussie TV screens for more than 10 years, after her devastating diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2009. And now her daughter has shared a rare update on her condition – admitting the whole family missed the early signs of her disease.
Appearing on Channel 7’s The Morning Show, Katie assured the hosts her mother was “still going”, after being inundated with concerned messages over recent months. However, she admitted she struggles to recognise anyone or make sense of her surroundings anymore.
“She’s still going,” Katie said. “But I think it could be the family dog saying hello and she wouldn’t know the difference, really.”
Katie has worked hard to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s after watching her mother suffer, regularly taking part in charity events and heading up campaigns. However, she said she was inspired to write her own book after realising she’d missed the signs of the disease in her mum at the start.
“Mum was so ditzy and fabulous and calling everyone darling and was doing ridiculous things all the time, like putting white nail polish on her teeth to whiten them and stuff like that and we’d go, ‘What have you done now Mum? This is ridiculous’. So honestly, we missed the signs,” she admitted.
“Mum would say, which way is the front door? And we’d go, don’t be ridiculous. There’s 450,000 Australians in Australia who are living with dementia, which means there are so many families going through this – and it all affects them differently.”
Meanwhile, she also recalled the heartbreaking moment she was first told it was Alzheimer’s in an interview on Seven’s Daily Edition.
“When mum was diagnosed, I was there,” Katie said. “When I heard the word Alzheimer’s, alarm bells went off. But I had no actual experience with the disease at all.
She added: “We had no idea what we were in for. It was just so difficult. Mum always used to call everyone ‘darling’ and was a bit ditzy anyway – so really, we missed a lot of the signs for ages… The person who mum was is completely different to the person she is now.”
Little, 81, hasn’t appeared on TV screens in more than 10 years after being diagnosed with the horrific disease in 2009. She remains one of Australia’s favourite entertainers, winning over fans across the country with her over-the-top fashion, chirpy personality and “Darrrrling” catchphrase.
And it comes after Studio 10‘s entertainment reporter Craig Bennett, 56, opened up on his close friendship with Little over the years. Speaking in an exclusive chat with Starts at 60, he said: “I see her still now in the nursing home where she is… Not many people go, and that is very sad, but in talking to some people – it’s that they can’t stand to see her the way she is now, which is basically bed-ridden, she can’t talk, she can barely move, she’s just lying staring at the ceiling.”
The pair have been friends since around 1980, regularly attending showbiz events together before going on to form a close bond in the years since. Asked if she recognises anyone now, he said: “No, no. It’s terribly sad. Her husband Barry is now in the same nursing home, but it breaks his heart to go down and see her – he does so every day and sits and holds her hand – but just that immeasurable sadness of knowing that that wonderful woman and all of their shared memories, there’s nothing there. She doesn’t recognise him.”
Bennett said that while she may make the odd sound, Jeanne hasn’t spoken clearly in some time. When she was first diagnosed, he explained that she could be “brought back” with music – regularly enjoying singing with her loved ones – but that hasn’t happened for a while.
“That’s all gone now, there’s absolutely nothing, she’s basically a woman lying in bed staring at the ceiling having to be hand fed… It’s beyond cruel, but so many millions of people are dealing with loved ones in exactly the same situation and it is absolutely horrible,” he said.