“Oh My Darling Granddaughter”

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Our wonderful Helen Cottrill, project manager at Haelo, shares a true example of living well with dementia and the invaluable support of the NHS, a must read, written in support of Dementia Awareness Week 2017.

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My Nan is my biggest fan. Every single time I rang, even if I had seen her hours before, she would answer with the same delighted refrain “oh my darling granddaughter, how lovely to hear from you”. I use the past tense, not because she is no longer with us but because I no longer ring her. Even with hearing aid she cannot hear and the whole thing quickly descends into a confusing stressful battle to try and help her to understand what I’m saying. Her eyesight has deteriorated and she no longer feels confident enough to leave the house alone. She has battled over the last year with delirium, it continued for months and included a stay at a mental health facility. Although she has recovered from the delirium, the dementia symptoms remain. She is still my Nan, she is still my biggest fan but she has lost some of the joy she always found in life.

When my little brother was young he asked my Nan how old she was, “older than 21” she would invariably reply. Always logical, my brother told his teachers his Nan was 22. My Nan hid her age for most of our childhood. This all changed in the year leading up to her 80th birthday when she decided to reveal the truth- she wanted a big celebration! It was then that I realised she had been older than most of her contemporaries when she married in 1962 aged 37. Before she married she had been fiercely independent, she had her own flat, a good job and a car of her own- she received two wartime written proposals and turned them both down. She recalls wartime with fondness, hiding under tables during the Blitz, trips to the cinema and dances with her best friend all feature highly. Following the war she would travel all over Europe with one of her girlfriends, Nancy. They would have a whale of time, Nancy had a wicked sense of humour and years later they would recall the time Nancy had in mock serious tones admonished a man on the beach whose swimming trunk cord was hanging down. I first heard this story when I was 11. I was mortified, they were in hysterics.

She is slower now. She is sometimes confused and is often forgetful. Yet she can often come out with a comment so wry, so on the money, that she can surprise us all. November 2016 saw her 92nd birthday and she received a card from a relative that wished her ‘a happy birthday and many more to come’, ‘many more to come?’ she repeated incredulously, then with a roll of her eyes ‘ stupid man!’. We all roared with laughter with her but there is an undeniable veracity to her words. She has had a wonderful life but the last year has taken its toll.

Yet over the last year I have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from the NHS. Time and time again NHS staff have gone above and beyond for my Nan, from the paramedics who sang along with her as she was admitted with delirium, to the incredibly busy A&E staff who still found time to bring her tea and toast while she waited, to the GP who printed off his medical certificate to show her he was a real doctor and to my own friend, a junior doctor, who stayed with us in A&E until 4am in the morning on her weekend off. These are just a few examples of the many health care professionals who have supported her. I am in awe of all of them. At every stage of her journey she has been treated with care, with respect and with compassion. I hope that if I make it to 92 I will receive the same level of care from a national, public funded healthcare system, it’s too important to lose.

I am proud to be a dementia friend, I completed the training at Haelo when my Nan was still fighting fit. The symptoms of dementia can be frustrating for the person experiencing it and those caring for them. If you haven’t already, I would urge you to do the training, at some point you will find it invaluable.

Visit Dementia Friends to find a training session near you or become a Dementia Friend online.

Unite against dementia #DAW17

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