Forgetting conversations and making strange sandwiches were the first signs which told Amanda Franks something wasn’t quite right with her mum.
That was seven years ago before Cathy, aged just 58, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Coinciding with Dementia Awareness Week in May, mum-of-one Amanda, aged 39, is determined to help more people understand this hidden subject and also raise money for much-needed research by Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Amanda Franks is pictured with her mum Cathy Davidson
Amanda, who owns recruitment agency Frankly Recruitment, from Oakhurst, said: “This disease turned our whole world upside down and at first we didn’t really know anything about it. Initially we were a bit in denial and tried to laugh it off, as it seemed the only way to cope.
“It was only when we confronted it and started to get proper help that the situation gradually improved. Although things will never be the same again, you learn to adapt and accept it. But it still seems very much a taboo, which people want to sweep under the carpet. That’s why the new national Dementia Friends campaign, involving celebrities, is such a good thing because it’s bringing the disease out in the open and getting people to talk about it.”
Earlier this year Cathy, now 63, moved out of the home she shared with her husband John in Greenmeadow and now lives in a care home nearby.
Amanda said: “It’s great because it’s just round the corner from me and dad visits every other day. He gave up his job as an aircraft engineer a couple of years ago to become her full-time carer. But the disease took over so this wasn’t possible any more – he couldn’t cope and she needed specialist support in more suitable surroundings. Although it took a while to settle in, her consultant has been fantastic and we can see she’s in the right place. Our lives have also gone a bit more back to normality.”
In between work and looking after her 11-year-old son Daniel, Amanda is organising a special concert in November called The Gig to Remember with all proceeds going towards Alzheimer’s Research UK – see details below
“Cancer research is widely supported and everyone feels proud of getting involved in all sorts of things to help. It would be so great if more people knew about dementia and the sad fact that it’s a growing issue. We’re all getting older now and there are already care homes across the Borough at full capacity supporting people with it. It’s more common than people think and as we all live longer, more people are at risk,” she said.
It is estimated there are more than 2,000 people in the Borough living with a type of dementia – a disease of the brain, which affects the way people think, speak and do things. It affects people’s moods and motivations, particularly if the disease affects the part of the brain that controls emotions. Everyone’s experience of the disease is different.
Amanda said: “At the beginning we thought mum was depressed. She was drinking a bit too much wine in the evenings and could become irritable. She also started forgetting previous conversations – once I remember her swearing blind she wouldn’t let dad buy a black car then the next day she said, perfectly seriously, shall we get one? When she became quite adamant she hadn’t ever said anything against the idea, we thought this had to be something more serious. We actually made the doctor’s appointment before telling her, just in case she resisted.”
She was referred to the memory clinic, which confirmed cognitive impairment and that her memory was significantly less for someone of her age.
“They did the same tests 6 months later, to measure the deterioration. Within a year we had the diagnosis of early onset dementia, confirming our worst fears. Nothing quite prepares you for it because you know from that point you’re never going to get your mum back – the mum who ruled the roost and looked after all of us rather than the other way round,” she said.
Simple tasks became puzzling – like lifting the curtains up and down, not knowing how to draw them or going to the hairdressers and asking her daughter or husband how she wanted to have it cut.
“It was so sad, watching that slip away. Doing the ironing, ironically, was the last thing she held onto. In the end she was just emptying the washing machine, putting it in the dryer, ironing and then washing it straight away so the ironing could begin again, “Amanda said.
“Cooking was another problem area, she would make chilli but forget the sauce – that was her last meal, fried mince with chilli powder. We would get cups of tea with either three tea bags in the bottom or just hot water. Sandwiches were also in the wrong order- sometimes with an extra slice of bread and cut into a giant triangle and tiny corner. Early on she looked at it knowing something wasn’t right but later she became oblivious. There would be no point saying anything because it only created upset and an argument. She was always biting dad’s head off and it all became too difficult.”
“My son Daniel has found it really hard because over the years he has watched his nan go this way. He has been great though and is brilliant at putting her at ease. When she started eating with two knives, he would just gently replace one with a fork without saying anything to cause a scene. She still asks about ‘the boy’, who she thinks the world of, which reminds you that for all the changes there is still a bit of her there – the mum we all still love to bits.”
To find out more about dementia go to www.dementiafriends.org.uk
Tickets for the Gig to Remember – sponsored by Hoffman Male Solictors – featuring the renowned Bootleg Beatles at the Swindon Oasis on 14 November, go on sale on 1st June.
For more information see www.thegigtoremember.com or Facebook