Battling the scourge of dementia

Dementia has been a hot topic for discussion among politicians, health bosses and in the media during recent weeks and months.

Varying levels of care, Government promises to improve care and problems with late diagnosis are just some of the issues to have hit the headlines and our TV screens of late.

Alzheimers Society reopens at Scarborough Business Park .Staff,Kirstie Cunningham,Louise Morgan,Irene Jervis,Mary Fawcett,Sue Fergusson,Helen Williams,Kate Paul.Picture Richard Ponter 130532a

Alzheimers Society reopens at Scarborough Business Park .Staff,Kirstie Cunningham,Louise Morgan,Irene Jervis,Mary Fawcett,Sue Fergusson,Helen Williams,Kate Paul.Picture Richard Ponter 130532a

But what is it really like to live with dementia? And what is it like to care for a loved one who has it?

To find out more, I met up with Irene Jervis at Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Alzheimer’s Society’s new headquarters at Scarborough Business Park in Eastfield.

Irene’s mum, Betty Darrell, had vascular dementia for the last eight years of her life.

She lived at home with support during most of that time and went into residential care 18 months before she passed away.

Irene, 49, said it took two years to get a diagnosis, which unfortunately isn’t uncommon, but when her mum got to see a specialist she was diagnosed straight away.

The family became concerned when Betty started becoming forgetful and was worried about going out.

Irene, a mum of two, explained: “Mum had always been very sociable and was involved in the church.

“But she would forget to meet friends for coffee or lunch. She wasn’t as keen to go into 
social settings as she was worried she’d make mistakes.

“She could be wonderful, and you’d never notice, until you’d had the same conversation five minutes later.

“We had endless conversations about the weather, because I think she saw that as a ‘safe’ topic.”

Betty had help from Irene and carers would come to her home three times a day.

But as her dementia got worse, it became clear that Betty would need to go into full-time residential care.

Irene said: “She was leaving her house at night and trying to get into the neighbour’s house because she thought it was hers.

“We also had to replace the gas fires in her house to make sure it was safe.”

Irene, who was looking after her mum, going to work and caring for two small children, became so run down at this time that she was admitted to hospital with a severe virus.

She said: “It was a wake-up call – I’d tried to do too much.

“My left leg just stopped working. It was very scary.”

Now, as part of her role as a dementia support worker, Irene always encourages people who are supporting a loved one to look after themselves too.

She said: “I was in my early 40s at that time, but many of our carers are in their 80s.

“I find a lot of people try to do everything themselves, especially if they’re looking after their husband or wife.

“People feel it’s a sign of failure to ask for help. Sometimes carers have as many health problems as the person with dementia, but they just soldier on.”

Irene is now able to use her own experiences to help and reassure those who are looking after someone with dementia.

She said: “It’s lovely to be with other people who understand. You can share ideas, experiences and strategies for dealing with things, such as challenging behaviour.”

Irene is advising anyone who has a friend or relative with dementia, or who has dementia themselves, to contact the Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Alzheimer’s Society at any time for help and support.

“We can visit people in their own homes, give them information and signpost them to other services.

“We’re here throughout the whole dementia journey. We can even advise people before they go to their GP if they think someone might have dementia.”

The Scarborough branch of the society, which is now based at Unit 16, Manor Court, Scarborough Business Park in Eastfield, has a wealth of information to share.

The recent move from Forge House, West Street, means that support workers are now able to get out to villages and the wider area more easily.

Information worker Helen Williams explained: “We’re running more groups out in the community now, so the new base is more appropriate for that.

“We’ve recently received a £270,000 grant to improve services across Ryedale over a three-year period.

“We’re running groups such as Memory Cafes, Singing for the Brain, carers’ information courses and support groups across the whole area.”

This month the society is starting “Tea on Tour”, which involves taking a taster version of Memory Cafes out to smaller villages and suburbs.

Starting in Eastfield this month, the tour will go to 10 different venues, including Thornton-le-Dale and Sleights.

People are also welcome to call and speak to any of the seven staff at the charity’s base. It’s open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, or you can telephone (01723) 500958.

People can also call the National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 1122. The message is clear: don’t try and cope with dementia alone.