Tuesday 23 January 2018

'Dementia robbed her of herself' - Man walking from Austria to Ireland in honour of his late mother

(L-R) Sepp and Eamonn are trekking across Europe to raise money for dementia research
(L-R) Sepp and Eamonn are trekking across Europe to raise money for dementia research

Claire Fox

A grieving man who is walking over 1,500 miles to raise funds for dementia research has said the condition "robbed" his late mother of her personality.

Eamonn Donnelly and his friend Sepp Tieber set off on their trek from Austria to Ireland on June 18 to raise funds for the Alzheimer's Society.

They hope to reach Rosslare by the end of August and Eamonn, who is originally from Co Armagh, said he is thinking of his beloved mother Margaret every step of the way.

Speaking on The Ray D'Arcy show on RTE Radio One today, Eamonn said Margaret was in the "prime of her life" when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia at the age of 69.

He said: "She was robbed of herself but the last two years of her life she became something else.

"She had raised seven kids and went back to school. She did her GSCEs and A-Levels and went to Queen's University and got her Bachelors and then did a Masters and then this happened."

Eamonn said that the form of dementia that his mother had affected her ability to communicate and she eventually lost her life to the condition in April 2014, two years after she was diagnosed.

She said: "She eventually lost her words and her personality. She passed away when she was 71, so it was a very quick decline in her health."

Read More: 'People die of malnutrition, they don't generally die of dementia'

Eamonn, who has lived in Austria since 1990, said that it was his mother's "do-gooder" attitude throughout her life that inspired him to do the charity trek.

He said: "She was involved in the local community and always doing things and trying to make things better for the kids around the town and was involved in a lot of youth projects.

"She was always trying and was very modest at the same time. She was always trying to find solutions."

An emotional Eamonn recalled how frustrating it was to be told by doctors there were no solutions to combat his mother's dementia and he said he wants to highlight this.

"There was a lot of support from the Alzheimer's Society but what my brother and sisters found very frustrating was the fact that there were no solutions and I want to raise awareness of that very fact. There's a dead end."

Read More: Stressful life experiences 'can age brain by several years'

Eamonn and his Sepp are 870km through their challenge and he said it hasn't been smooth sailing.

He said: "We sleep rough most nights but book a guesthouse once a week to clean ourselves up. It's just us and our rucksacks and maps at the moment.

"It's very tough. I wish it was near the end."

With the Irish population getting older, the number of people with Alzheimer's in Ireland is set to increase, Eamonn said that something needs to be done to tackle this.

He said: "Our clocks are ticking. If you spend the last few years of your life not the same person you've strived to be your whole life it's particularly cruel."

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