Tuesday 20 August 2019

John Hume's wife on his battle with dementia: 'If he was talking to you now, in 30 minutes he would have forgotten all about it'

Pat Hume with Miriam
Pat Hume with Miriam
John Hume

John Hume’s wife, Pat Hume, has spoken for the first time about his ongoing struggle with dementia.

She was speaking this morning to Miriam O’Callaghan on her RTÉ Radio 1 programme Sunday with Miriam.

The comments were part of a wide-ranging interview about her 55-year marriage to John Hume, about which Pat has written in a new book John Hume – Irish Peacemaker published by Four Courts Press.

John Hume is 78 and lives with Pat at their home in Derry.

“Unfortunately John is having severe memory difficulties at the moment. He has a form of dementia... It hasn’t actually taken away all his quality of life in that Derry is a very dementia-friendly city. People love John. He can go out for a walk. Every taxi in the place will stop for him... I can go for a walk myself. He can do his crosswords. He can enjoy the paper. So it could be worse.”

“His memory is very bad. If John was speaking to you now and I said to him in half an hour, ‘it was lovely to see Miriam’, he would say ‘where did we see Miriam?’ He just wouldn’t know that he’d seen you. If he was out for a meal, he’d be back for half an hour and I would say ‘it was lovely food we had tonight’ and he would say ‘what food?’ So it really is very sad.”

John Hume
John Hume

Asked if her own role as John’s carer is difficult, she replied: “It can be very tough. Especially at the end of the day, and you know when somebody asks you the same question twenty times and you’re giving the same answers, and it’s very hard to get up the energy to be pleasant, so it can be tough. I am very blessed in that I have a daughter in Derry who is a doctor and she keeps a very good eye to him.”

Asked whether John would attend the launch of a new biography of him in Dublin next week [published by Four Courts Press], Pat said, “No... For a man who travelled the world non-stop, he doesn’t like being away from home now. He loves Derry. He loves going down to Donegal because they’re very familiar to him. He doesn’t like going to Dublin... and John loved Dublin and he loved Europe and America. Now he’s not interested.”

“One of the things that I would love to see is a greater knowledge of being dementia-friendly. Dementia-friendly workplaces, dementia-friendly cities. Because it is getting very common and it must be really really sad for the individual because you lose your uniqueness; you lose so much. And it would be wonderful if out of somebody like John who is a fairly prominent person if it would lead people to consider let’s make our area a dementia-friendly area. And then, when people say are out for a meal and they [person with dementia] might say something which is inappropriate because the filter does go in the brain, that you can just shrug your shoulders.”

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