Dementia touches many people’s lives in some way and at some point but for my family that touch has been more of a grab and shake of the shoulders. There’s been no hiding or escaping the fall out from such a horrible disease. I don’t want to sadden you though with the upset it has caused or blighted the strongest characters I’ve had the pleasure of calling my relatives, instead I want to inspire you to go out and help those suffering and their families by becoming Dementia Friends and this is my dementia story…
My experience of dementia has been part of my family’s everyday lives for 15 years. I’ve spent hours sitting with my Grandad, looking at old photos while he recalled tales from his time on navy ships in the war yet struggled to remember what he’d had for lunch or which grand daughter I was, to any observer you’d be forgiven for thinking my name was Jessica-Nicola-Lynsey-Kathryn-Verity-Alison! But the man who sat with me was still the man who took me on early morning walks to buy banana milkshakes and even when I knew his illness meant at times, he wouldn’t share the same love for me as I did of him, just listening and talking and giving him time meant he had company and compassion at a time when others felt awkward to be around him. That’s what I want to specify for anyone not familiar, when you know someone has dementia, don’t avoid them. My Aunt has moments where you would never know they have the condition, she can hold conversations like there’s nothing wrong. When she struggles with their words, we are patient and wait, sometimes I prompt if I can see she’s really struggling but we still chat about everything and anything and with support she lives a relatively normal life.
No one knows the loneliness or isolation someone feels when they suffer from dementia, the world can be an unfamiliar and unfriendly place which is why it is so important to make sure they have company and time to chat and share memories, music is a great trigger and seeing my Aunt’s eyes light up when Pink Floyd is playing is magic. Even though we sometimes go over the same conversation, she loves to talk about the times I sat on her lap as a toddler sharing liquorice, she loves to chat and reminisce and that’s what we do. I know that one day, like my Grandad and Nanny, conversations like this will be limited and I love that she remembers details like this so vividly.
Supporting the immediate family is also key. As a family, we help buy birthday and Christmas presents for my cousins so they don’t miss out, and make meals, help with the housework, by writing meals, and important dates such as birthdays in a large diary, crossing off each day as it passes, helps keep a level of independence.
There is so much you can do to support those suffering from dementia and by raising awareness of the disease and encouraging as many people as possible to sign up as a Dementia Friend means families and friends have the tools in place to help those living with dementia live full and happy lives. This isn’t a plea for your time and money, by watching a short video and signing up, you’re learning how you can support someone with the condition. It’s really as easy as that. Even better of you can sign post your children’s schools to the resources available at alzheimers.org.uk/youngpeople or share with your own children to raise awareness like we have done at home.
I’m working with BritMums and Public Health England alongside the #BritMumsDementiaFriends campaign. I have been compensated for my time. All editorial and opinions are my own. Visit the Dementia Friends site for more information and resources about coping with dementia among family and friends.