How Our Family Copes with a Loved One with Dementia

Back in December I shared a blog about my mother in law Pat to raise awareness of the fact that me, my husband Greg and friends Richard and Carol are running the London Landmarks Half Marathon at the end of March for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Since we shared that blog, lots of people have been asking me how we have coped with Pat’s diagnoses as a family; so, I am going to write a short series of blogs from our perspective which I hope might help anyone else on the same journey.

So – what were the first things we noticed and how did we deal with things?

Looking back there were quite a few things that Pat did which were out of character; she forgot birthdays (even her husband’s) and anniversaries which was unusual, she is such a generous person and loved giving. She always loved to help my Greg in the kitchen, but she started taking a long time to do things (such as setting the table) and would get very muddled. She got confused about simple things like making two cups of tea one with sugar and one without. She’d always been passionate about the news, but she became much more animated, angry with the TV, talking to herself.

  • Suddenly falling asleep – even at bus stops!
  • Strange rambled phone calls with no context
  • Very muddled conversations – unable to put a sentence together
  • Moving stuff around the house and putting it in piles
  • Constantly folding clothes and Tea towels – even kitchen roll squares!
  • Getting upset a lot
  • Confusion when travelling
  • Unable to work out finances
  • Hiding things and being very secretive – she even bought herself a lockable box
  • Referring to Vic (her husband) as “He” or “Him” less than fondly
  • Getting really angry/upset when she felt that people are not understanding her
  • Pacing in the night – we noticed this on a family holiday in Cornwall

More worryingly, she started to leave the house without telling Vic and her spatial awareness and hearing were heightened – often ‘jumping out of her skin’ at the normal everyday noises. She started to hide things and buy lots of the same item (we discovered lots of bath mats in the house!).

In hindsight, all of these symptoms together do show that something was wrong. But as a family we did not ‘join the pieces’ immediately. Before I realised what was happening, I would get frustrated if Pat turned up unexpectedly at busy family times. I thought she was being insensitive. Now of course I feel guilty for having those thoughts.  In the early stages our faces probably looked so confused or dismissive when she was saying things we knew weren’t true.

We all tried to correct her until my 12 year old daughter Anna very wisely said “Just go along with Nanna”, if she thinks her son visited last week (when he actually lives in Australia and hasn’t visited for a year) then don’t argue because it doesn’t help.  dementia tips

Eventually Pat’s behaviour changed even more, and we came together as a family to discuss what to do. I’ll be sharing that with you in the next blog.

In the meantime, if you would like to sponsor me and the team, any amount would be welcome.

Here we are – Team Geri-Atrics – we will reveal the choice behind the name next time!

four runners raising money for Alzheimer's Research UK