The Cruelty of Dementia

Alzheimer’s is an incredibly cruel disease.  Luckily, I don’t have anyone in my immediate family who has been affected, but I know several people are not so lucky and have members of their family who are affected.

September is International Alzheimer’s Month, which is all about raising the awareness of the disease, and to encourage us to support families living with dementia.

Dementia stories 

As a child there was a wonderful couple who lived in our road.  Their daughter was married, and lived in London – we were in Leicester. They rarely saw her, or their grandchildren, due to a family rift.

This couple, Elizabeth and Len, took me on my first visit to London, travelling on the newly opened M1 motorway.  My parents didn’t own a car, so this was a very exiting outing for me.  Over the years, I got to know them well, and often popped in to see them.

Sadly, during the time I was away at college, Elizabeth developed dementia.  Len used to visit her regularly, but heartbreakingly for him, she often didn’t recognise him as her husband.  She thought he was just a very kind man who dropped in to see her.

Another occasion where this disease has impacted on someone I have known, was our previous dentist.  When we moved to Royal Wootton Bassett, 18 years ago, we joined the dental practise on the High Street.  Ian was known well by everyone in the town.

Sadly, a few years ago now, he was diagnosed with this terrible disease and had to give up his practice. He was not old at that point.

I used to see him on the High Street, walking his little dog and he would greet me as a long-lost friend. Because I would smile at him, he remembered knowing me from somewhere, but it obviously didn’t connect as to ‘where’. He would always ask me about my young man, meaning my husband.  We would have a good chat, and then part ways.

Sadly, he passed away, peacefully, in May this year.

It could be any of us

Dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is only one type, is a huge challenge in the world.  Nearly 54 million people are living with the disease worldwide.

In the UK, 850,000 people have dementia, and scarily, this is expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

Over the age of 65, 1 in 14 people are affected, and over the age of 80, 1 in 6.

And it isn’t just the elderly who are affected. More than 42,000 people under the ages of 65 have dementia in the UK.

The poem is about a lady who was in the same Old People’s Home as my mum.  

Kate, thought the Home was a hotel and was always saying how good it was.  She assumed that those of us visiting, were also staying in the hotel, or guests for the day.

Her male friend used to arrive, once a week, with his CD player, and they would dance the ‘light fantastic’ in the lounge.  She was happy to see him, and they danced beautifully together.

However, on occasion, the disease took over, and she didn’t recognise her dancing partner, or know where she was.  

It is a tragic illness that can affect anyone.  Kate, was a bright, intelligent lady, and on good days you could have amazing conversations with her. She could talk about her home in Yorkshire with clarity, but always referring to the wonderful hotel in which she was now staying.

I’m grateful that Mum didn’t suffer from dementia, and amazingly,  she remained clear-headed in her thinking until her last few days of illness, before she died, at the age of 90. 

Having seen several people suffering with the disease, I hope it isn’t something any of my close friends or family succumb to in the future.

The saddest thing about this disease is, it takes people we care about away from us, gradually, over time. And it is not only the person with the disease that suffers.

It also strips away people’s dignity.

If you have ever watched the film ‘The Notebook’, although most of the film is about a love story, the most tragic part is where Duke is reading of Noah and Allie’s love from his notebook each day, to an old woman who suffers from dementia.  If you haven’t watched, and do, make sure you have a large box of tissues at the ready.

For some, I know it is a very schmaltzy film, but it does bring home the tragedy of dementia.

How can we help?

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, or any kind of dementia.  The research for dementia is desperately underfunded.

You can donate to help that research; you can become a Dementia Friend, which could be to chat and keep someone company for a few hours; your business can become Dementia Friendly, and you can find out more about the disease, so you can support any friends who have family members suffering with dementia. 

If you would like more information about the Alzheimer’s Society, or how you could help by becoming a Dementia Friend: