Tom’s grandad, John, has Alzheimer's. Despite the ups and downs of the past few years, Tom reflects on the special bond he shares with Grandad, drawing on the life John has built with his wife, Ellen, Tom’s Nana.
Driving up the M6 with my Grandad on a weekend used to be the highlight of my week. I now realise those days were the best of my life. We used to have season tickets at Manchester United for a few years.
There’s nothing quite like going to a football match with your Grandad, but for me, the best part was that car journey. Listening to Radio 4, moaning about roadworks, just me and him. We spoke about so many things back then and I learned so much from his words.
Committed to helping others
Grandad's life was like a film. He used to be like a superhero to people living with dementia.
He was a psychiatric nurse during the 1960s at the old Parkside ‘Mental Hospital’ in Macclesfield. Back then, dementia was simply not understood. Prejudice was commonplace in facilities like Parkside, and it would be normal for people with dementia to be wholly ignored by the staff who worked there.
Grandad was different. He saw those patients as people who simply needed care and support.
He hated the stigma surrounding mental illness even back then. The patients at the hospital adored him – they had never known anybody like him before.
He arranged trips out to the local area, group walks, ordered in fish and chips. This was unheard of. He’d stop and ask patients about their day or sit and read the paper with them. He educated staff on the right way to care. To actually CARE.
Grandad, along with everybody else who lives with dementia, is the reason I care so deeply about my work as a Customer Care Advisor here at Alzheimer’s Society, and the role we play in one day winning this battle.
A dedicated family man
I’m always filled with pride when I hear about what Grandad used to be like. Such a compassionate human being. No prejudice. An example to others. My Nana, Ellen (but everyone calls her Ello), fell in love with Grandad while she was working as a staff nurse when she saw how kind he was to people.
She never let him out of her sight after that! He retired in the early 90s following a long and successful career in healthcare to focus on making memories with his family.
He was a superhero to me too. He never once raised his voice, yet I still behaved best when I was with him. Perhaps for fear of ever disappointing him, not that I ever could have!
Changes in Grandad
He was the cool Grandad, who used to sit me on his lap and let me steer his car into the garage. He was the man who helped me build my first snowman. The gardening maestro who grew the best cherry tomatoes and mowed an impeccable lawn.
He had his own Nintendo and did brain training every day! Never missed a sudoku in the newspaper. Hysterically funny and very sharp. Proud Mancunian, Man United supporter all his life. A loyal and caring friend to all and of course, a doting husband to my Nana.
Simply the greatest man I’ve ever known.
That man still exists, but tragically he doesn’t know it.
Though he never received a formal diagnosis, Grandad started to show minor symptoms of Alzheimer's in late 2016. Now, in just over four and a half years, he doesn’t understand what football is. He can’t mow a lawn anymore. He can’t remember the people he helped as a nurse all those years ago and the lives he changed.
He has global aphasia alongside his Alzheimer's, meaning he struggles to speak and understand what is being said to him. He also lost the ability to read and write.
Sometimes, usually in the evenings, he wouldn’t have any idea who Nana was. It was heart-breaking.
Making a tough decision
As Grandad's symptoms worsened, they became more challenging to manage, even with the support of our family. We knew it was time to act once it became clear that, despite our many efforts, his condition was too much for Nana to handle. It became impossible to look after him at home, and we needed to take the next step into full-time care.
Moving Grandad into care during a global pandemic was, to put it simply, terrifying.
We’d seen the devastating effect coronavirus had on care homes last year and there was a real fear that despite the vaccination rollout, something similar could happen again.
But it was the best thing we could have done.
He was immediately taken off harmful antipsychotics his GP had put him on and moved onto a far more suitable medication. Any aggressive outbursts have largely disappeared. He has become socially active again and enjoys spending time with other residents.
He’s happy. However, he misses his wife.
Reuniting Grandad and Nana once again
Recently, my Nana was diagnosed with mixed Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. There is no medication suitable for her. She hasn’t shed a single tear, because she knows what she wants now. She wants to be with Grandad again.
She wants to move into my Grandad’s care home to spend the rest of her life there, with him. Because deep down, he’s still that same man she fell in love with all those years ago. Dementia will never take him away entirely.
He will always be John, her husband, and my Grandad.
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