Monday 23 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 - Louth Dementia Adviser. Contact: Maeve Montgomery. Phone: 087 748 9258 Email: - Cavan, Monaghan and Louth

Memory Café - Relish Café, Laurence Street, Drogheda, Louth. Contact: Ann Shortt / Helen Barron. Phone: 041 984 1311 / 087 289 3698 . Email: / . Meets on 2nd Tuesday of each month at 6-8pm.

Tredagh Lodge Day Care Centre, Malta Services Unit, Donore Road Industrial Estate, Drogheda Co Louth. Contact: Helen Barron. Phone: 041 984 1311 . Email:

Drogheda Support Group - The Stables, Bachelors Lane, Lagavooren, Drogheda, Co. Louth. Contact: Ann Shortt / Helen Barron. Phone: 041 984 1311 / 087 289 3698 . Email: / . 1st Wednesday of each month.

Drogheda Memory Technology Resource Room - Ballsgrove Health Centre, Ballsgrove Estate, Drogheda, Co. Louth. Contact: Liz Hughes. Phone: 086 774 9350 . Email: . By appointment Tuesdays. The Memory Technology Resource Room has assistive technology products on display. People with memory difficulties and their carers will have an opportunity to see a range products and how they work. You can also access expert advice about assistive technology.

Memory Clinic, Louth - Memory Clinic (Cognitive Disorders Service), Mental Health Services for Older People, St Brigid's Complex, Kells Road, Ardee, Co. Louth. Phone: 041 685 0665.

One day per week. The Clinic is a specialised service for people with memory loss, changes in cognitive function and dementia. Diagnosis and treatments are provided for those concerned about changes in their memory and memory disorders, including dementia.

Drogheda Independent