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Bringing dementia out of the shadows
HER mother’s sudden forgetfulness and tendency to prepare bizarre sandwiches were the first signs that something was not quite right for Amanda Franks.
Soon, aged just 58, Cathy Davidson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease – a condition which changed her and her family’s lives irrevocably.
Five years on, Amanda is resolved to help more people understand dementia, which affects 2,000 people in Swindon alone, as Dementia Awareness Week gets underway, and raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK.
“This disease turned our whole world upside down and at first we didn’t really know anything about it,” said the mother-of-one from Oakhurst.
“At the beginning we thought mum was depressed. She was drinking a bit too much wine in the evenings and could become irritable. She also started forgetting previous conversations.
“Once I remember her swearing blind she wouldn’t let dad buy a black car then the next day she said, perfectly seriously, shall we get one?
“When she became quite adamant she hadn’t ever said anything against the idea, we thought this had to be something more serious.”
Cathy was referred to the memory clinic, which confirmed cognitive impairment and that her memory was significantly below the average for someone of her age.
“They did the same tests six months later, to measure the deterioration,” added the 39-year-old, who owns recruitment agency Frankly Recruitment.
“Within a year we had the diagnosis of early onset dementia, confirming our worst fears. Nothing quite prepares you for it because you know from that point you’re never going to get your mum back – the mum who ruled the roost and looked after all of us rather than the other way round.”
Simple tasks such as lifting the curtains up and down and going to the hairdresser’s became puzzling.
“Initially we were a bit in denial and tried to laugh it off, as it seemed the only way to cope,” added Amanda.
“It was only when we confronted it and started to get proper help that the situation gradually improved.
“Cooking was another problem area, she would make chilli but forget the sauce – that was her last meal, fried mince with chilli powder.
“We would get cups of tea with either three tea bags in the bottom or just hot water.
“Sandwiches were also in the wrong order – sometimes with an extra slice of bread and cut into a giant triangle and tiny corner. Early on she looked at it knowing something wasn’t right but later she became oblivious.
“There would be no point saying anything because it only created upset and an argument. She was always biting dad’s head off and it all became too difficult.”
“My 11-year-old son Daniel has found it really hard because over the years he has watched his nan go this way. He has been great though and is brilliant at putting her at ease.
“When she started eating with two knives, he would just gently replace one with a fork without saying anything to cause a scene.
“She still asks about ‘the boy’, who she thinks the world of, which reminds you that for all the changes there is still a bit of her there – the mum we all still love to bits.
“That’s why the new national Dementia Friends campaign, involving celebrities, is such a good thing because it’s bringing the disease out in the open and getting people to talk about it.”
Earlier this year Cathy, now 63, moved out of the house she shared with her husband John in Greenmeadow into a nearby care home.
- Amanda is organising a special concert, The Gig to Remember, with all proceeds To Alzheimer’s Research UK. Featuring the Bootleg Beatles, it will be held at the Oasis on November 8. Tickets will go on sale on June 1. To book visit www.thegigtoremember.com or email Amanda at Amanda@thegigtoremember.com.
- Alzheimer’s Society will hold a special afternoon tea and entertainment event between 2pm and 4pm on Friday at St Andrew’s Church.
- To find out more about dementia go to www.dementiafriends.org.uk
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