THIS WEEK marks Dementia Awareness Week (May 15 to 21) to raise awareness of the condition and encourage anyone concerned about themselves or a loved one to seek help.
Observer editor Rob George reveals the impact a dementia diagnoses had on his mum and the family as a whole.
DEMENTIA is a growing problem in this country with many experts warning of a ‘dementia timebomb’ on the NHS and on the older population.
With more than 8,600 people currently living with dementia in Worcestershire and with the number expected to rise to 10,443 by 2020, it’s clear something needs to be done to try and tackle the problem.
A number of years ago, my mum began to repeat conversations we’d had maybe an hour earlier, at the time we laughed about it and she would call herself a ‘silly old woman’ and I’d think nothing of it.
As the years progressed though, the repetition got more and more frequent – on a night out with friends, mum repeated the same conversation numerous times during the one evening.
Eventually, we sought help as a family and she was diagnosed with vascular dementia – one of a number of different types of the condition.
That’s one of the problems with dementia, no two cases are the same, what affects one person won’t affect another.
For me the most painful part to deal with was the fact that unlike any other illness or disease, nothing can be done to make someone with dementia better, you can only slow the decline.
Basically you don’t die because of dementia, you pass away with it.
When the decline began with mum it was slow but heartbreakingly for me, my dad and our family it began to take away the person we all knew.
My mum was an extrovert, the sort of person who would walk into a room and know everyone within 10 minutes. As a rather shy young man I revelled in having someone so confident to look up to.
But slowly but surely she began to decline, my dad reached retirement age but immediately began another job as her carer.
One night I rushed to their side after mum had opened the front door and shouted for help as she was being kept against her will by my dad. She wasn’t of course, it was her illness manifesting itself.
Eventually we were forced to embrace care homes to ensure she had the best care but more importantly she was safe.
Infections came and went as her body’s tolerance of coping with such unwelcome visitors was lowered.
My dad meanwhile was by her side throughout, devoting much of what should have been his retirement to being there for her.
He, myself and all our family watched on powerless as the woman we all loved changed.
Yet while not being able to hold a conversation, a kiss on the cheek from either me or my dad would bring a smile to her face. It was as if deep down she always knew we were there.
While the diagnosis is awful for the person concerned, the effect on family members is also devastating. I became a father during my mum’s illness but at times did wonder if she would ever meet her grandson.
Luckily she did and I think deep down she always knew when Jacob came to visit her, which we as a family did on Sunday, February 21.
On the morning of Tuesday, February 23 my mobile phone rang. My dad told me my dear mum Sheila had passed away in her sleep.
When she was first diagnosed, I was of course devastated but hoped for two things – that she would pass on always knowing her husband and her son and family and she would not suffer.
I’m proud to say she didn’t and while I will always miss her and feel angry this horrid disease took her long before she was ready, I am glad she is now at peace and out of her suffering.
What my dad and our family experienced is scary but I would urge anyone affected by dementia not to face it alone.
Hundreds of thousands of families are touched by dementia every year and many people don’t know where to turn.
If you’re worried that you, or someone close to you, might have dementia, call the National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 1122 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for advice and support.