When 21-year-old Ben Crocker packs his bags at the end of a long day on the field training, he heads home and begins what is, essentially, his second job: Caring for his 58-year-old father who is battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Crocker, who is best-known for being an upcoming AFL star for Collingwood, has shared his family’s story in an interview with Fox Footy’s On the Mark in light of an upcoming Memory Walk & Jog organised by Dementia Australia.
“There’s times when he gets really agitated and I might be coming off an eight-hour day at the club and I’m absolutely knackered, and I fall asleep on the couch and I don’t watch him for 10 minutes and something can go wrong,” he told Neroli Meadows on the show on Wednesday night.
“He obviously needs help going to the toilet and stuff like that so I’ve had a few instances where I’ve fallen asleep and he’s accidentally gone to the toilet in the living room or something like that. Those are probably the moments for me where I sit back and go, wow, I can’t believe this has happened.
“You tend to get a bit upset but you’ve just got to find a way to deal with it — you can’t be a sook about it, constantly thinking about the negatives isn’t going to get you very far.”
Five years ago, Crocker’s father was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease at the age of just 53. In 2015, when Crocker was first drafted to the club, he says he imagined many of his teammates may have just assumed his father was dead or his parents were, in fact, divorced, so little did he speak of him and their relationship. However, after taking some time out of the game last year, he was encouraged to tell his teammates all about his story.
Crocker adds that while he doesn’t love the way his relationship with his father has changed so markedly, he doesn’t have a choice.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s really tough, and I don’t enjoy it at all. It is really hard and you’ve got to build strength around it,” he said.
“He has episodes where he doesn’t know who his own reflection is, so he shouts in the mirror and gets pretty violent.
“That’s something I’ve never grown up around, he’s never been violent. The other day was the first time he didn’t know who I was or thought I’d done something to him, so he was quite violent towards me."
While those diagnosed with this condition are told they may not live more than eight to 10 years after a diagnosis, Crocker says it's not something his family actively talk about.
“You tend not to talk about is much but there are times ads come on about life insurance and stuff like that, and you kinda sit there in the room and no-one says anything, but you know you’re thinking the same thing.”
To register for Dementia Australia's Walk & Jog event, click here.