John O Doherty lives with vascular dementia as well as several other serious medical conditions. He was placed on the Government’s shielding list when coronavirus spread and has mostly stayed at home for the past four months. This has been hugely difficult for John, who explains the impact on his condition and mood.
Back in February, coronavirus and COVID-19 were words that meant nothing to me. But as news of the virus became more worrying and intense, life for me and my family has changed dramatically.
Both myself and my wife were considered to be high risk. As well as dementia, I am living with prostate cancer and also have heart disease and COPD, which affects my lungs. We were made subject of a 12-week shielding programme, which meant we could not leave the house.
Because of my dementia, I suffer severely with panic attacks when I leave the house. I have learned that these panic attacks can be equally as bad when I have to remain in my house due to enforced lockdown.
Losing my independence
Living with a diagnosis of dementia, you want to keep as much independence and control of your life as you possibly can. But those things have been lost due to the lockdown.
I am also fiercely proud and dislike having to ask people to do things that ordinarily I would do. I find myself having to ask my sons to go shopping for me. While I am grateful to them and they do it enthusiastically, I find it frustrating having to hand them a list and my debit card details. I no longer have the ability to spontaneously buy items off the shelf.
This process also reminds me that my dementia is worsening. I am given a receipt but am unable to add the sums up and struggle even with the help of a calculator.
‘I am grateful for this help, but I long for the day I can again make my own choices again.’
While I trust my sons implicitly, I feel like I temporarily have lost control of my finances while they have my credit card. Essentially I feel that my power of attorney is already being applied, even though I still maintain capacity for my financial affairs.
Life under lockdown
Most importantly though, lockdown has been a stark reminder that as my dementia progresses and my capacity diminishes, this is how my life will be. While shielding will protect me from COVID-19, it won't shield me from my dementia.
Prior to my shielding I was relatively busy attending meetings, writing, and doing public speaking. I was even working with the Halle orchestra.
Now I do virtually nothing, I am stagnating; hoping tomorrow will be different, but deep down knowing it will simply be more of the same.
I have tried different things to occupy myself. Watching television didn't work. After watching 10 minutes of a film or a programme my concentration and poor memory meant I had completely forgotten the plot. I used to be an avid reader, but the fact is I can no longer read a leaflet never mind a magazine or a book.
New world, new challenges
Every aspect of my life has been turned upside down by coronavirus. On a daily basis my self-confidence disappears. In fact, I feel that due to my dementia, every day I am disappearing a little bit more.
I’ve been following the social distancing rules as best as I can. With my health conditions, I can take few chances.
‘Now that I’ve started to go outside again, I sometimes forget and stand too close to other people.’
I’ve also noticed changes at my local supermarket, where arrows have been placed to guide people around. This has made shopping quite difficult, as the arrows can change as you turn from one aisle to another. This can be profoundly confusing for people with dementia.
My only solace is that I have been here before, at the point of my dementia diagnosis. I drew strength and accepted that diagnosis, moving into a world of optimism, friendship, self-worth and self-respect.
Hopefully that world re-awaits me again.
Dementia Connect support line
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