Peter cares for his mother, Doreen, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2016. It has been a long and difficult road, but they are looking forward to Christmas this year after encouragement and support from Alzheimer’s Society.
A sherry trifle, layers upon layers of wrapping paper and family gatherings. These are some of the memories Peter remembers of Christmases in years gone by.
'Years ago, as kids, Dad did National Service and became friends with a soldier who came from Norwich. So, the two families used to share Christmas and summer. During the summer, we went to them, and they came to us at Christmas.
'Mum was proud to show her cooking skills and always made a sherry trifle. “Oops!” she’d say as she would often “trip” as she poured in half a bottle of sherry!
'But then the trifle was never left uneaten – there was always someone ready to eat it!
Dad used to torture us by wrapping our gifts in 20 layers of newspaper. But really it wasn’t about the presents, it was more about the family being together.
Getting a dementia diagnosis
'Around 2015 we noticed mum was becoming unusually forgetful, mixing up names and getting them wrong more often than not. Then she became more confused about who people were and about birthdays.
'I was concerned so I arranged to go and see the GP, who in turn referred us to hospital for tests.
'Sitting in on the assessment tests was quite upsetting. To see mum struggle to answer the questions, watching my face for my reaction and looking to me for reassurance made me realise her condition was probably worse than I thought.'
Peter's mum was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.
At first, she could still live on her own. I lived not far away with my wife. Then things changed dramatically as Mum’s dementia progressed.
Facing difficulties as a carer
'Mum has dementia and Type 1 diabetes and in 2020 she was not taking her diabetes medication properly and we had to call paramedics about her insulin levels.
'We arranged for professional carers to help Mum, but she hated them. Then she would refuse her medication.
'She would cook a dinner, but forget about it, and the fire brigade would have to come out. Social Services and the fire brigade insisted the gas was cut off, but Mum refused to use the microwave.
'Mum ended up in hospital during Covid because of her insulin levels. She was hallucinating and refusing to eat. The social worker changed.
The constant changes and demands were so stressful. My work is full on, and I would be getting calls that I couldn’t answer at work. And then people would say I didn’t pick up.
Finding support from Alzheimer’s Society
'During this time, my neighbour put me in touch with a Dementia Adviser from Alzheimer’s Society called Cathy. She gave me fantastic advice on mum’s wellbeing and how to arrange help.
'She knew how the system worked, and what would happen. Gradually, we needed to move Mum into a care setting.
'I attended Alzheimer’s Society’s peer support group for carers and was grateful for the support, taking notes from others' experiences.
'After the diagnosis there is no support from the medical side, and it is hard to know where you can turn to for advice.
Alzheimer’s Society has been amazing. Cathy would even call me in the evening and send me the information through as she knew my work hours were so long. Without her help – I wouldn’t be here.
Looking towards this Christmas with mum
Mum’s care home was forced to close, and I had to find somewhere else for Mum to live.
Cathy gave me Alzheimer’s Society guide on selecting a care home and all the questions I needed to ask. She helped me to help myself.
Now, Mum is settled in her home. Her birthday is on December 23rd, so we are looking forward to a lovely festive season - but remembering that the care home is also her home and family now.
I always maintain that I have got Mum back. I have not been angry or upset since she’s been in care. I have had major surgery on both ankles, and she asks how I am.
She is still my Mum, and she still remembers to care.