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The Perennial Life: For Kate Swaffer, Dementia was Just Another Chance to Reinvent Herself

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

Kate Swaffer, a middle-aged woman with dark hair, stands at the end of an outdoor walkway framed by trellises, ground cover, air plants, and flowering vines
Kate Swaffer in her garden

“Some people knit,” said author, poet, international speaker, and holder of the trademark on the Theory of Prescribed Disengagement, Kate Swaffer. “I get degrees.”

Since 1977, Kate has participated in a total of nine degree programs and certifications, ranging from the relatively modest (the nurses training program at Whyalla and Cleve Hospitals in Adelaide) to the prestigious (the University of South Australia’s PhD program in Justice and Society) to the downright whimsical (a cooking course at the Regency Park Technical and Further Education School, where she received her diploma from the renowned Chinese-Malay chef Cheong Liew).

Kate has managed all this in her free time, the hours leftover between building a loving marriage, raising two sons, launching three businesses, pursuing multiple successive careers, and cultivating a home garden sumptuous enough to put the ancient Babylonians to shame. And she shows no signs of slowing down.

Insofar as there is any stereotypical image of a woman living with early-onset dementia, it isn’t Kate Swaffer. Yet she received her diagnosis at the age of 49.

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