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My Mum and Alzheimer's

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Bromford colleague, Jan Dean has personal experience of Alzheimer's. Her mum has the disease and here Jan helps to help raise awareness by giving us an insight into their lives.

My mum had always been in good health and was always incredibly active. She worked hard all her life, always there to help her family, friends and others in need. It was in 2011 when we started to notice little changes in her behaviour.

My mum, then aged 89, was forgetting where she had put things in her house – money, her keys, handbag, letters and other personal things. As time went on this started to happen more often and she started to worry about paying her rent, even though she paid it regularly, she was worried that she had missed her payment. We would reassure her that it was paid, but then she would forget and start to worry all over again.

Mum would collect her pension every Thursday, but then she would return to the Post Office more frequently, forgetting that she had already been. These episodes became more and more frequent, to the point when the Post Office telephoned us on several occasions to say she was upset as they would not give her, her pension.

Mum’s home was only 5 minutes' walk away from us, and she would have dinner with us most evenings as she lived alone. She began coming to our house more and more often, and at different times of the day, when she would normally have known we were at work. Our kind neighbours would say to her that we were at work and she would then go home. But then a short time later, she would come back to our house, forgetting previous visits. She would come to our house, more and more often, in the evenings, and then began asking where my dad was - where the children were – meaning myself and my sister. My Dad sadly passed away 24 years ago. We would reassure her, chat to her and then take her home but she would sometimes forget and return a little later. On occasions she would return much later at night wearing no coat and her slippers. She would get upset saying she was getting very forgetful. Then she would, again, start worrying about her rent, pension and things she couldn’t find.

We took her to the doctors where she was asked a series of standard questions - she was then referred to a consultant whom she met with every few months. We were devastated to be told the eventual diagnosis – my mum had Alzheimers Disease.

We tried to help mum by putting post-it notes around her house to help her to remember things. We would leave little messages such as that her rent had been paid.

Sadly things became worse when she began going outside at night time in her nightie and wearing no shoes – we feared for her safety. We would get telephone calls from her neighbours to let us know. She began talking about my dad as though he was still alive -and also her parents, brother and sister, all of whom are no longer with us. We would tell her this and she would become upset but then would begin talking about them all over again. She would insist that her home was in another street, where we lived over 40 years ago. I would take her back home and she would say this wasn’t her home – it was very difficult trying to convince her that she had lived there for the past 18 years.

Over the following months things became worse and mum had to move into a care home. We took as many things as we could for her, special things to help her remember like photographs, land army memorabilia and special presents.

Sadly in November 2012, shortly after moving into the care home, mum suffered a stroke. However, after spending time in hospital and then the rehabilitation hospital she was transferred to a nursing home as she now needs 24 hour care. Mum recovered relatively well from the stroke but now needs a frame to assist with her walking. Mum now forgets she cannot get out of a chair unaided and will try to which has resulted in her having had several falls in recent months. The last fall resulted in her having to have an operation as she fractured her pelvis whilst trying to get out of bed by climbing over the bed guard.

Because of the Alzheimer’s, mum forgets that she has had falls and will continue to try to get out of a chair and therefore always has to have a carer with her. At night time her bed is alarmed so that staff can be alerted if mum tries to get out of bed.

We visit mum as often as we can. She appears to be happy where she is but will then ask when she is coming home. She talks about her mum and dad and says that she has been to see them that day. She will ask where my dad is too. She will talk more about people from many years ago such as her aunts and uncles and her grandparents than people she knows currently.

Recently I spoke with a lady from the Alzheimer’s society about how we can deal with this – by telling mum that someone was no longer with us she became upset, but then half an hour or so later she will forget and then ask again. We were advised to “go along with what she is saying” - for example, say my dad is at work, or in the garden. This means that mum is no longer getting upset and is reassured by what we say.

I have to say it's not easy talking as though my dad is still alive, but if it makes my mum happy, then that is the most important thing.

I know mum will not recover from this horrible disease but we try to do something different each time we visit. This could be playing dominoes, making cards, flower arranging when we take her flowers, colouring, singing with her -keeping her busy doing different things. We were advised that it would be good to put together a special box containing items that have different textures, such as feathers, a small nail brush, silk, etc., as people with Alzheimer’s like to feel different textures and find comfort in this.

The staff at the nursing home are very kind to mum and we are always kept informed as to how she has been. We're kept up to date with what she has been doing and we see photographs that have been taken of all activities mum has been involved in within the home.

It saddens me that within half an hour or so of visiting mum she will have forgotten we have been in. But we take comfort in that when we do visit, we all have a lovely time and I know mum is very well cared for in her nursing home.

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