Over a two part series, Cath Higgins describes coming to terms with her mum’s dementia diagnosis. Her first blog looks at how Alzheimer’s disease has affected her family in the past and how it felt to finally receive a diagnosis.
It sounds strange I know, but I’ve always ‘known’ Mum was going to get Alzheimer’s.
My Nan was diagnosed when I was quite young, and spent her last years in a care home, with my Granddad visiting every day.
The family watched her slowly disappear until she was nothing but bones and a few scant memories. And although I was never brave enough to visit her, my lasting memory is from a photograph taken in the home: a frail old woman, in a brown wing-backed chair, wearing a hat from a Christmas cracker. As a memory goes it’s not the best and I’d rather remember her as the lovely, gentle, caring Nan that I’m sure she was when we were both much younger.
And now, my Mum
For most—actually probably for all—of my adult life, I’ve been watching out for the signs.
A forgotten word, a strange phrase, some odd behaviour…the classic dementia ‘stuff’. And around 2010 Mum was finally diagnosed: to me it came as no surprise.
To be honest, I think it could have happened much earlier, but I’m not sure any of us were brave enough to suggest she went to her doctor. I know I wasn’t. None of us wanted to upset her by suggesting she was no longer just ‘Mum’, that she was somehow faulty, especially when there really wasn’t much in the way of treatment.
So, we did what most people do – think the worst but hope for the best.
And then the worst did happen
Actually, lots of ‘worst’ happened. Her diagnosis came at a difficult time for me though no doubt it was an even worse time for Mum.
Nevertheless the same year she was diagnosed I succumbed to a period of depression – buying a leaky terraced house with every penny we owned and being challenged at work in a role I no longer felt was right for me, combined with worrying about Mum, led to 6 months of ‘reflection’ shall we say. I’m not ashamed to admit that the 3 things together were just too much. But after a period of recovery I fought back enough to change my role at work, lose weight, get fit and find hobbies I was passionate about. I even started a science degree.
Yet, whilst all that was going on, the gremlins in Mum’s head carried on. She started on medication to try to slow the progress, the efficacy of which we’ll never really know, and everybody carried on with their lives the best they could.
Mum and Dad grew closer, even as the disease that will ultimately separate them grew in her head. They started going for walks, making visits to all the beautiful nature spots they’d never explored before: they fell in love with driving around in soft-top cars like glamorous 1950’s movie stars.
But unlike a Hollywood movie, there’s no happy ending. All the time my parents were being Cary Grant and Grace Kelly the gremlins in Mum’s head got bigger, becoming more confident and boisterous, taking away more and more pieces of ‘Mum’. We could never have prepared for what happened next.
To be continued…
Follow Cath’s dementia journey in part two, where she battles with the guilt wrapped up in her mum’s diagnosis.
If you need support and advice after receiving a dementia diagnosis, you can call our National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22.