Angela trained as a confectioner and came to work in Oughterard, Co Galway in the early 1950’s. One day my Dad spotted her standing at the bus stop and followed her to Galway. He used to tell us ‘she was the finest woman I had ever seen’. How right he was! My Mum, Angela, was a lady, she worked hard, and reared her family. She was an entrepreneur in her time having set up a baking business from home and was instrumental in establishing our pony trekking business, a crucial part of the family income during the summer months. I adored my Mum from a young age following her about the house, licking up the end of bowls, singing old Irish songs. She was very private and kept to herself. She lived through difficult times but never complained. Her family were in Longford and England so she was very much on her own in the West of Ireland.
Angela started having falls and osteoporosis was diagnosed, this continue over several years and so when Mum got quiet and withdrawn we didn’t worry. Mum kept saying she couldn’t hear us, but one-to-one she had no problems. I took her to a hearing test and she couldn’t respond to the instructions during the test. This was when I knew there was something wrong.
In September 2009 Mum was taken to hospital with a shattered vertebra after a fall. It was a horrendous time – she was so unhappy. On returning from hospital Mum stayed with me for a number of weeks. All went well; she was walking and getting back on her feet.
2010 was a slow rehabilitation process for Mum, but despite my Dad’s ill health and his passing away that year, we got into a good routine. We went to see a Geriatrician who assessed Mum and referred her to a neurologist. For there, she was sent for an MRI and the results were vascular dementia and frontal lobe damage. This was the first time we heard any mention of Dementia. We had no idea what it all meant but it was a relief to a degree that we now had a name for what was happening to Mum.
Over the following months we went on a journey that was surreal. We discovered Mum’s GP had suspected Dementia all along. He had written it in her file but never told me. This was tough for our family to handle. Mum and I were drowning in the deep end, so we spoke to a solicitor and, along with her doctor, decided to go the Ward of Court route. Mum remained living with me as she was unable to live alone and needed help to do most things.
We had wonderful times during the 3 years Mum lived with me but we had our challenges too. Neither of us had a clue what was happening. We were both terrified – I was panicking that I would fail her in some way, and Mum was terrified I would leave her or put her in a Nursing Home. It took many months to get a rota in place, to find carers whose company we both enjoyed. We were very lucky to meet the most lovely group of ladies who helped Mum and I cope with the Dementia.
The stages were many and we never knew when the next stage would hit us, change of routine especially going to a Nursing Home was a definite low point. Mum went into shock, she seemed to be terrified that I was not coming back.
Nutrition was very important, I found vitamins and good diet was critical, as the dementia cloaked us we came to accept what was happening and made the most of the good days. There was no guide book or guide for that matter, we were lucky we had a wonderful District Nurse who was so compassionate and empathetic as the medical professionals have very little time to give.
I was constantly looking for cures, anything that I thought would help, and Indian head massage was recommended by the Neurologist. It definitely helped for a time until Mum got to a stage that she would not let anyone near her head. We would go for drives, which Mum always enjoyed but in later times it was easier stay at home as Mum got agitated by change of environment.
The spiritual side of things was so important near the end. I hadn’t considered Mum a very religious person outwardly but she had a great faith within. Near the end of her care, I asked our local priest to visit Mum, he kindly came and spent a long time talking to her. At this stage, Mum hadn’t spoken in nearly a year but she communicated with her eyes and gestures. She was so content when he left. The weekend was a quiet and peaceful one.
On Mum’s 87th birthday we had visitors to see her. I knew she was exhausted and was ready to leave us, I told her how much I loved her and would miss her but I knew she would always be with me. I was lucky I had learned to accept what was happening and how to cope with it. I had requested palliative care on the Friday but unfortunately the GP thought it was for cancer patients only. Mum was never in pain as we had access to pain relief.
I had completed a part time course in Social Gerontology, while doing this I had applied to be part of the Voices4Care. All of this had helped prepare both Mum and I for the parting. I learnt about a beautiful death and then was lucky to witness it as my Mum had a beautiful death.
It is so important to get an early diagnosis. Unfortunately there is still a taboo around dementia, some GPs can be reluctant to diagnose and discuss the possibilities with their patients. It makes life so much more comfortable for your loved one, so much more relaxed; everyone will have some understanding of what’s happening and what the future holds. A palliative care approach gives insight into the stages ahead and what services are available.