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My experience of dementia

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Before working for Bromford, Michael Pritchard, was a community care worker supporting older people with mental health issues. Here he remembers how dementia and Alzheimer's affected the people that he helped.

I spent two years working for social services as a community care worker and my daily work involved supporting older people with mental health related illnesses to live independently in the community. I was also involved in supporting the Community Psychiatric Nurses (CPN’s) when sections took place. The majority of the customers who I supported were either suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s often mixed in with delusion and schizophrenia. These people who had led an active life often needed support to do everyday tasks to enable them to live as independently as possible.

I met one of my customers at St Matthews Hospital where they had spent many weeks on the ward undergoing treatment to enable them to manage effectively within a community situation.  We would often talk about the past and their memories were very strong, she had led a lovely life and held down a great career. During conversations her memories of yesterday (or even an hour ago) would disappear often leading to frustration and anger. There was also denial that anything was wrong. The lady concerned had no family so often we were the only people she would see.

Another customer I met lived with dementia and also suffered delusional episodes. She was convinced that people lived in her roof space and were out to get her. I often had phone calls in the day saying they had been down whilst she was out and stolen things from her property. I would visit and we would often find the items in the most bizarre places, once her purse was in the food mixer but she had no recollection that she had placed it there, and who was I to say she had?

We set up a group for all the customers to come together and support each other, it was difficult as often they would forget who each other were and it was like meeting new people over and over again. In the group sessions we'd to run memory sessions using special cards to draw out past memories that they had often forgotten about. These sessions often led to the wonderful sound of laughter as forgotten memories of good times came flooding back - we also had our fair share tears though too.

My worst nightmare took place on a trip to the theatre. We took a group of 20 people to see a show and on leaving the theatre one of the customers had gone missing.  We searched everywhere for them but they were nowhere to be found. About half an hour later another coach pulled into the coach park and off jumped our customer. He had got on the wrong coach and suddenly realised he did not recognise anyone –relief was an understatement!

My own grandmother lived with dementia which I remember having a real affect on the family. She would talk about a man (who I presumed was my granddad) hanging around a woman with a big hat with a rat on it. She obviously knew what she meant but it didn't make much sense to us as they had lived a very happy life together. My granddad had died when he was 50 and before his death they were devoted to each other. Yet she hated him now!  It was sad to watch her deteriorate into someone who wasn’t really my grandmother anymore.