Why write about dementia?
In 1989 my nan, Irene Braithwaite, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. In the subsequent years before her death, my sister and I were kept away from her, for fear of us being frightened or upset. This was not unusual: open discussion of mental health problems in society at the time was taboo and general awareness of related issues was poor.
At the present time however, across the world, people are looking for new ways of improving awareness of dementia in young and old, the dementia singing groups I have worked with encourage members to bring their grandchildren along, and everyone benefits. During my research for this piece I conducted interviews with clinical psychologists, ageUK staff and other support staff, it was clear that they are stretched to the limit and that much of the activities they provide for their dementia groups are done in their own time, with little or no funding. This state of affairs is unsustainable, as a society with a rapidly ageing population, we urgently need to think about the future and make sure there exist the support systems in place to deal with the ever-growing numbers of people who need our help.
When I started this project I still felt woefully uninformed about what my nan, and others like her, experience living with dementia. I have relished the opportunity to learn more about the subject and to meet inspirational people, like the lady in my piece, who remain positive even in light of their diagnosis. There is much more we need to be aware of concerning what it means to be living with dementia, and I hope that this piece will go a little way towards helping those it reaches to gain more of that awareness. I hope it will increase their compassion for the people who have to deal with it on a daily basis and perhaps offer help where they can to carers and those living with dementia in their community.
Dementia can affect anyone: lawyer or gardener, old or young. When it happens, we need to be sure that, as a society, we unequivocally support those affected through the highs and lows of living with with this condition, so that they can stay positive, like my subject, and look forward to the future.