When his nan Grace was diagnosed with dementia Matthew Henderson felt powerless to help. Now he’s come up with an idea which he hopes will enable other families to spend happy times together on their dementia journey.
Sometime during the course of 2011 someone in the family noticed that Nan, Grace Steadman, wasn’t quite the nan she had always been (it was probably my Grandad).
She was usually busy, happy and very keen on family get togethers. But she was no longer any of these things; she was withdrawing into herself, becoming very forgetful and seemed fearful most of the time. Nan had lost her sparkle.
Of course we now know that that she was afraid because she knew something was happening to her that was beyond her control.
My mum and uncle sought professional advice and took Nan to a centre dedicated to diagnosing people with dementia, which was arranged by her GP, to find out how severe it was and if any treatments could be offered.
They were told she had a particularly aggressive form of the disease, called vascular dementia. Since Grandad wasn’t in good health either it wasn’t long before she was admitted to a care home. Christmas 2011 was our first without her. Although we visited her she wasn’t involved in our usual family celebrations which was painfully hard. Most of us around Nan felt powerless to be of any real help, we did the things we knew she once loved doing, ie family meals together, although they made her anxious in the later stages
Over the next five months Nan deteriorated and was admitted to two different nursing homes as her needs increased rapidly. In hindsight these care homes, in our opinion, were ill-equipped to take care of people living with dementia.
Eventually in May 2012 she peacefully passed away.
Five years later I’m pleased to see that dementia awareness has increased, there are a great many support groups around, he medical professional itself seems to have far greater knowledge and sites like www.unforgettable.org are helping to make life a bit easier.
In light of all the recent research, I now know we were wrong to try to bring Nan into the present day. It seemed to make sense at the time but actually it would have been far better to simply go back with her to a time when she felt happiest and safe – and that was her past.
This is why I’ve created the Our Lives book, so that people living with dementia now will be able to do just that.
We want to help those families currently in the same situation we found our family in those few years ago. Our Lives has been put together to help bring those families back together. There are five different decades full of all the things that went on in people’s lives during that decade and simple puzzles that strike a light-hearted note.
Mum and I put it together ourselves and had a lot of fun doing so. In some ways, it helped us feel close to Nan again. Now I hope it might help other families, just like ours.