Sunday 18 August 2019

'We’re doing everything we can to repay Mam after everything she’s done for us' – mum of two (33) on her own mother's dementia

Laura Reid with her mother Nora on her wedding day.
Laura Reid with her mother Nora on her wedding day.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

“Mam was a playschool teacher, and one thing she lost was the ability to read and write.”

“She loves kids and particularly with dementia, the last thing to go is the love of music. So now I’ll put a song on for the kids and she’ll know how to sing.”

“They love her absolutely, you’d be surprised with kids how it becomes part of their life”

Laura Reid (33) is a busy mother-of-two who is expecting her third child in April. Three years ago she and her husband David Costello moved home so that Laura could care for her mother Nora who has posterior cortical atrophy, a form of dementia.

Nora needs help with all everyday tasks.

When Nora was diagnosed with dementia, the family were given a one-page sheet on what to expect of the illness. By that stage Nora had herself lost the ability to read and write.

Left to right: Laura Reid from the Dementia Carers Campaign Network; Kathy Ryan from the Irish Dementia Working Group; and The Alzheimer Society of Ireland CEO Pat McLoughlin.
Left to right: Laura Reid from the Dementia Carers Campaign Network; Kathy Ryan from the Irish Dementia Working Group; and The Alzheimer Society of Ireland CEO Pat McLoughlin.

“My younger sister went with Mam, and they were handed a sheet of paper and told the prognosis was 12 years… and we were thinking, we’re a good chunk into that already. Mam couldn’t read at that stage as well.”

“The earlier things are put in place, the better. We felt we were a little on the back foot when Mam was diagnosed.”

“I wouldn’t have had a clue what services to engage in, or how to help her. We were very lost, even though we were relieved to have the diagnosis.”

“It really took for Mam a little while afterwards, after an episode when she was in hospital, that the services had to engage with us.”

She added: “There’s still very little for under-65s who have dementia. We ourselves would have benefited from the Alzheimer’s Society who were a great help. If you ring their helpline they ring you back and can even come out to your home or meet you in a café.”

Laura (33) has two boys Thomas (2) and Mathew (14 months), and is expecting another baby in April. Despite the challenge of Nora's illness, Laura says the family live in a happy home.

“Matt is 14 months now and as soon as the carer Mags comes in for an hour in the morning, he walks in with her into my Mam and that’s his routine.”

“Thomas is two and half and understands Mam wouldn’t be able to play with him much but he’ll play around her. She becomes part of what she’s doing.”

“Before it was this advanced, Mam would have been able to sing and dance, he’d be very protective of her and hold her hand when she’s walking. We have a happy house.”

The number of people with dementia in Ireland is expected to more than double over the next 20 years, from 55,000 today to 113,000 in 2036. Dementia affects 50 million people worldwide – a number that will almost triple by 2050.

The Dementia Carers Campaign Network (DCCN) and Irish Dementia Working Group (IDWG) have today launched a joint campaign that will focus on educating healthcare professionals about the supports people want and need when receiving a dementia diagnosis.

In a new video ‘The Experience of a Dementia Diagnosis’, Laura and others highlight their experience of hearing the diagnosis of dementia. 

All healthcare professionals are being encouraged to visit which is a web-based clinical education resource designed for Irish GPs and community based healthcare professionals.

“A person with dementia, you’re aware that your losing your ability to do something you’ve done your whole life, and you’re aware you’re losing your independence,” Laura explains.

“The type of dementia that Mam has, it's a harder one to diagnose, they thought it might be strokes. Mam was thinking that she’d have appointments for a number of years, and stroke, and she was relieved to have a diagnosis and to finally know what it was."

“Mam would be a little bit more confused than she was before. For a good number of years, she was very aware of where she was and her surroundings.”

But Laura added: “Even though she’s quite advanced in her journey of her disease, she’s still aware that she’s at home.”

“She would have had symptoms from when she was 50, forgetting how to read and write, or not recognising money, forgetting how to put keys in locks, that kind of thing.”

“Mam would have been a very independent type of lady… She’d say she’d forgot her glasses but it was really that she couldn’t read or write anymore.”

Nora's husband died when their eldest child was only 12 years old. In order to keep the family afloat, she trained to be a play school teacher.

“In the evenings, she was able to be there when we came home from school.”

“Eventually Mam knew that the time had come to give up her job. We’ve been very lucky that Mam has been very accepting of the help that she needs.”

“Along the way, she has tried to live as best she can.”

“We know what’s happening in her life. We understand what she’s trying to communicate, and she is entertained quite a lot because the kids fill up her day.”

“You’ve only got one mum, we’re doing everything we can to repay her after everything she’s done for us.”

Involvement in the community is vital for people with dementia, Laura says.

“She has fantastic friends who pop in all the time, which is hugely important. She has ten friends who would have gone out with for her glass of wine up until very recently. She still gets her hair done.”

“Her friends really engage with her so well. And she’s so much a part of what we do.”

“It’s so important to keep someone in the community. The carers we have are fantastic and for anyone who is at the point of thinking about carers, I would say that we’ve never looked back. Mags is part of the family now. One of Thomas’s first words was Mags. They adore her.”

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland National Helpline is open six days a week Monday to Friday 10am-5pm and Saturday 10am-4pm on 1800 341 341.

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