independent

Sunday 22 September 2019

'Mum only knew me'

As World Alzheimer's month gets underway, Olivia Ryan talks to a Louth carer about the impact of the condition on family life

For some time Declan Cassidy and his siblings felt something 'just wasn't right' with their mum.

'There were changes to her personality. She began accusing some of the grandkids of taking her wedding ring... when it was simply lost.'

Memory difficulties had accompanied these changes, so the family arranged for her to undergo a dementia test with her GP.

'She actually passed the standard test. But her symptoms were increasing, so it was only after she attended a memory clinic that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

'It was a big shock for us as a family. We really didn't know what to expect. We began to take turns to care for her, and tried to cope with it ourselves.'

'But then at a certain point the disease progressed, and I was the only person that mum recognised. As a family, we knew she needed 24 hour care, so I gave up work to look after her.'

In time, the family learned of the support services available in Louth from the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland, and they accessed day respite.

'For mum, the way the condition impacted on her, she could be up at 4 in the morning, distressed about something and not able to sleep. So that respite became a blessing for me particular. It was a few hours just to get a break, and not to have to talk about Azheimer's.'

He added that with any dementia diagnosis there are 'a whole load of possibilities' in how the disease will impact.

'There are some commonalities, but each individual can be affected differently, so it's important to remember that.''

'With mum there were things we just didn't expect. She couldn't watch anything violent on television, even adverts could really upset her.'

'She also went from being a meat and two veg person her whole life to suddenly becoming a vegetarian, because she said she 'didn't know how anyone could eat an animal.'

'It can be distressing for everyone involved. But something you should remember is that the person you love is still in there. Cherish those times when you see that, whether it's sitting holding their hand, or just listening to music with them.'

Declan explains that his mum's condition deteriorated to an extent where she needed full time care, and the family made the difficult decision of placing her in a nursing home.

Change, he explained, can be especially stressful for anyone affected by dementia.

'When it came to mum, I had to tell her that we were both moving to the home, it made things a little less frightening.'

'I think we learned as a family to go along with things how mum saw them, and realise that it didn't really matter if she was telling us something that was a figment of her imagination. Her contentment and giving her a feeling of security were more important than anything.'

The sacrifices carers make should never be underestimated, said Declan.

'Caring for someone full time can really take its toll, and the statistics are there showing how carers themselves can fall ill as a result. But in our case, with me looking after mum, it kept her from going into care a lot earlier, so I was glad that I did it.'

The advice, he adds, for all families who are facing the diagnosis and challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or any form of dementia is to 'seek support as early as you can.'

There are a variety of services available in Louth, including the support of Dementia Adviser, Maeve Montgomery (pictured above) Contact: 087 748 9258 or email mmontgomery@alzheimer.ie, and day care services through the Birches at Rathabbey Day Care, Grange, Carlingford. Contact: Olive Joyce Phone: 042 939 7617, and The Birches Daycare, Priorland Rd, Dundalk, (042 935 1388.

For more information, including details of dementia supports and services in Louth, visit understandtogether.ie or freephone 1800 341 341.

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