Saturday 21 October 2017

'I'll be walking around town and suddenly I don't know where I am' - Man (59) on the reality of early onset Dementia

Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

A 59-year-old man who has early onset Alzheimer's disease has told how he now has "blanks" when walking around Dublin city centre.

Ronan Smith was diagnosed with the disease in 2014, after he himself had watched his father die with the same disease at the age of 72.

Ronan said he was very alert to the symptoms of Alzheimer's because of his experience with his Dad, and eight years ago he began to realise that something was wrong with his own health.

A tiny cohort of people inherit Alzheimer's disease, and Ronan was one of these people.

"In 2009 I was getting concerned about myself. I felt that there were certain things that could be early stages of dementia."  

"Up to that time I was able to carry about two or three days of planned activities in my head without any problem at all. But I was noticing that I was having to check my diary for what was to happen tomorrow."

"That sort of blank was new to me. I really didn't like it and I was monitoring it for quite a while before I actually began to examine it."

"When I got the diagnosis in 2014, it wasn't a surprise. I knew, I was suspecting this," he added.

Often Ronan could be travelling through very familiar surroundings in Dublin city centre when he suddenly won't know where he is. But he said these blanks don't scare him.

"It just annoys me. But I know the reasons... Why am I feeling lost in this place? I know this place very well... I commute into town and some of the venues would be quite regularly visited. And I'd be saying I don't know where I am."

"It's a matter of redesigning your life to accommodate the reality of this disease," he said.

Now whenever he draws a blank, Ronan says knows to keep calm and to call his wife or to call someone who can help him identify where he is and where he's going to.

To that end, Ronan says his wife Miriam Brady and his two adult children (21) and (23) are also bearing the burden of the disease. 

"Cumulatively it is a growing pressure. I mean [my wife] would of course be as likely to see herself getting down about the prospect for the future and what's ahead. It's a big thing to be living with."

"She would be worried for, and I don't mean this in the sense of being selfish, but she would be worried for her for when things do worsen, as they are likely to worsen. I'm very aware of that."

"We've kept no secrets from [the children] and I think that's the healthier thing to do. I have the support network of colleagues and friends. For the moment I'm very much out and about and have a very active social life."

Ronan is Chair of The Alzheimer Society of Ireland's Irish Dementia Working Group, and believes a positive outlook, mindfulness, and a paleolithic diet can all stem the progress of the disease. 

While he is a huge believer in the power of positive thought, he also knows that he has to face the fact that his wife will eventually become his carer.

"You may have a period of being cared for at home, and there then comes a point where it's too burdensome on the person at home."

"The carers have an enormous issue suddenly launched into their lives."

"It was tougher on my family [when I was diagnosed] I would have thought. There was so much learning they had to do to pick up on what it is and what it'll bring into your life."

"The carer is as integral as the person."

He added: "I'm really keen for people to talk about dementia, if they're anxious about a family member or a neighbour, that it's not something to be run away from. That doesn't do anybody any good."

"I'm endeavouring to remain as active and as positive as possible."

September is World Alzheimer Month, and World Alzheimer Day is on Thursday, September 21st. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland national helpline is 1800 341 341, or helpline@alzheimer.ie. For more information see www.alzheimer.ie

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