He would be driving home from somewhere, and drive past the entrance to their housing development. He would ask a question a couple of times and when he was told that he’d already been given the answer, would then nod and brush it off as a joke. In May 2019, dad had his left kidney removed successfully and thankfully (at the ripe old age of 79) came through both the operation And recovery.
By this stage however, we started to see dads’ memory deteriorate even more quickly. He couldn’t remember why he had the huge scar on his stomach and when out for a meal, a few minutes after ordering from the menu would ask ‘What did I order?’ Mum made so many excuses for the memory loss, but I knew there was definitely something going on and after much debate with myself, decided to ring the Alzheimer's Society.
If anyone was ever in any doubt about ringing for peace of mind, advice or just to unload, please don’t be afraid to call them. The lady I was put through to, couldn’t have been more helpful and understanding. It was I have to say, an emotional call on my part. I think that perhaps I was also in denial about dad’s condition, but when I heard the words come out to the lady, it all became much too real for me and I crumbled. I shocked myself at the sheer raw emotion that I poured out to this poor unsuspecting advisor, and have to admit I felt quite mortified!! I’m the kind of person who tried to ‘get things done’ in a crisis, but admit I found that phone call one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make. After around 30 minutes of me blubbing and snotting, it was decided that I would ring my dad’s GP and explain things to him.
Now, dad is no stranger to the doctor. He has lived with diabetes for around 20 years and also has vascular disease, as well as then being diagnosed with the renal cancer and having skin cancer, but he is still a reluctant patient and getting him to visit his GP isn’t the easiest of tasks! It posed me another dilemma: how on earth would I convince dad to even see his GP in order to be put through the initial memory test?
I contacted his GP and found him really easy to chat to. I explained the various mishaps and forgetfulness and asked if he could possibly even call him in for a ‘routine’ check. I was so grateful when I agreed to this way of cajoling the stubborn old git to coming in. I mentioned to mum that I had contacted the Alzheimer's association and also the GP and to let her know that she should be getting a call from the doctor. Unfortunately, this didn’t go down too well and at one stage I feared she was going to throw her tea we were enjoying in our favourite café over my head! Denial again….
I have found that being a family member (especially the only daughter) of a sufferer of dementia is a lonely road. My dad was either unaware, or refused to believe that his brain was now not firing off correctly, that there were times the usual lucidity gave way to blank spaces or jumbled messages. As a spouse, my mum I think, didn’t want to admit or believe that the man she had been with since she was 15, this strong, intelligent, kind and hilariously funny man was somehow not quite the same. I think she feared that she would lose him altogether, so if she refused to admit and acknowledge there was a deficit, then it wasn’t true. To me though, ignoring the glaringly obvious wasn’t ever an option. If dad had a condition like dementia, then I wanted it diagnosed and hopefully start treatment before it really started to take the man that had been my rock my whole life.
⏩ Lesley Stock is a former PSNI and RUC Officer currently involved in community work.