Tomorrow is my Grandma’s 89th birthday. As I’m settling down to watch Bake Off with Mum (bring on bread week!) I remembered how I would drive the 5 minutes to my Grandma’s house every Tuesday to watch it with her, a special time I’ll never forget. Now, she is in a lovely care home about 15 minutes from us, as her need for round the clock care became more prominent after her dementia diagnosis. It can be hard to grasp when someone doesn’t remember things, is confused easily and may not even know who you are, which is why I wanted to understand dementia more.
According to the Dementia UK website, ‘Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain. There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. Some people may have a combination of types of dementia. Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.’
It’s thought that 850,000 people over the age of 60 in the UK are living with a form of dementia. Over 42,000 of these cases are people under the age of 65 with early onset dementia. The two most common types of dementia are:
Alzeihmer’s Disease: difficulty with language, withdrawing from family and friends, memory lapses becoming more common and disorientation of time and place and not being able to recognise faces.
Vascular Dementia: small blood clots preventing oxygen reaching the brain tissue, resulting in difficulties with memory, decision making and daily life tasks.
When my Mum’s Dad first got diagnosed with dementia back when I was in sixth form, I didn’t really understand it completely. I noticed that his memory wasn’t as sharp and he would withdraw into the lounge rather than be around us all. I just thought he was getting older and preferred a quiet life. But that symptom is quite common of Alzeihmer’s disease. Chances are you know of someone that has this diagnosis, whether that be your own grandparent or one of a friend. Dementia, like cancer, affects lots of families and dealing with it can be tough at times.
Since my Grandad passed away, it seemed to accelerate my Grandma’s diagnosis. The grieving process seemed to be a trigger of sorts. Memory lapses and repetitive stories were part and parcel of visiting Grandma and you’d just smile and nod, listening to the same things but not interrupting her. Since actually going into a care home, Grandma’s symptoms have exacerbated somewhat. Hallucinations are very common and she has mistaken me for a boy before. Nothing can really prepare you for someone not recognising who you are. It’s very upsetting. But unfortunately, that is part of the list of symptoms that surface with Alzeihmer’s. I try and laugh along – I feel that if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.
I’m human, I have got really upset about what’s happening to my Grandma and her mind. She was always so caring and loving, always on hand with biscuits and snippets of advice. Although crying it out does help to relieve you (don’t be ashamed of the tears), I also chose to read up on the disease some more, educating myself on the condition and what can be done to prevent it. Turns out there’s no drug you can take or extreme measures to follow. We’ve just got to look after our hearts and brains throughout our life, as best we can. No smoking, less alcohol, healthy diets and a good amount of exercise. Keeping our blood pressure down and cholesterol levels low are all ways of ensuring healthy heart health and in turn, a ticking brain. It’s stuff we’ve been told time and time again, but I bet not many people sit and think it’s all relevant to our brain later on in life.
Even though Grandma doesn’t understand who we are or where she is, she is looked after, she is safe and most of all, she is still loved. My Mum and two aunties all visit her regularly so she rarely goes a day without seeing one of her family. She has had a wonderful life. We have many happy memories. I have fond memories of me and my cousins, running around her beautiful garden in the summer, holidays in Cornwall, opening piles of Christmas presents in the lounge every year together, going to hers on a Saturday morning with Mum for juice and biscuits from the old Quality Street tin. It’s these memories you hang on to and that keep you going.
If you have a family member who has or is suffering with the disease, know you’re not alone and there are steps we can take to keep our brains healthy for as long as possible. Savour the memories, stay positive and be there for your family.