Remaining independent and living healthily following a dementia diagnosis

Lal Kissoon has always aimed high, and his dementia diagnosis hasn’t changed his plan to reach 100.

When Lal Kissoon was a 15-year-old in Trinidad, he knew his father had planned out his future. 

Lal was to leave school, roll up his sleeves and get to work on the family farm, tending to the sugarcane, cocoa, coffee and rice. 

The reason for this was clear, remembers Lal. 

‘If I worked for him, he wouldn’t have to employ an outsider and pay them $2 a day.’ 

Lal, born Laltchan, had his own ideas. He did leave school and worked on the farm, but he saved his wages, bought a bicycle and rode to evening classes to improve his education. 

‘I wanted to find a job outside of the farm, but I couldn’t find one where we lived,’ Lal explains.

Lal Kissoon

He applied for a passport, and by the time he was 21 he’d earned enough to pay the 300 Trinidad dollar fare for the ship to bring him to London – over £1,000 in today’s money. 

Now 83, he shows the same drive and determination in dealing with a dementia diagnosis as he did as a young man leaving his family, travelling across the world to build a new life. 

Dementia doesn’t frighten me. I plan to live until I’m 100.

Busy life 

When young Lal first arrived in London, he met with friends who gave him somewhere to stay until he could find work, plus thick clothes.

Lal had never heard of cold weather until his journey to the UK. 

He found work in a garage, cleaning and painting cars, then decided he wanted to work inside, not in the cold open air, and successfully applied for a job at a book publisher, parcelling up orders. 

After this, he went to work for the post office in the very centre of London, first as a postman, then behind a counter in one of the capital’s grandest roads, Wimpole Street. 

‘Whenever I went for a job, they gave it to me,’ says Lal looking back. 

He remembers how busy life was in the central post offices he was billeted to, in Marble Arch, Baker Street, Oxford Circus and other famous locations. 

‘You had a lot of money in your till, and at the end of the day you had to balance your account. 

It was a tough job dealing with savings accounts and people posting all over the world. I met people I’d seen on television and it was such a pleasure to serve them. 

‘These were the days before computers and our bosses knew us and how well we worked. They trusted us. 

‘We were polite and we were honest. They knew if we made a mistake, it was a genuine error.’ 

Lal Kissoon stands outside, he's looking at the camera wearing a baseball cap, blue shirt and bomber jacket.

Centre of the world 

Lal carried on studying at evening classes to improve his qualifications, and he worked hard to fit in. 

Despite living here in the 1960s, Lal says he never experienced racial prejudice to his face. 

I never tried to walk over people. I avoided bad conversations. If something difficult started to develop, I didn’t let things escalate. No one saw me as their enemy.

At one stage Lal decided to go back to Trinidad to farm sugarcane, but then realised London was where he wanted to be. 

It felt like the centre of the world. 

He returned and applied to the library service in the City of Westminster. 

For the rest of his career he worked in London libraries, finishing as a manager. 

He couldn’t be more proud of the way he educated himself and succeeded in his career.

Independence 

Lal had an arranged marriage, and he and his wife Jean had two children, now in their 40s, and they have two grandchildren. 

Although the marriage broke down a long time ago, Lal sees benefits in living on his own

He has arthritis, and in his early 60s he was told to take early retirement. 

‘If I was still with Jean, I would be sitting back with arthritis and going, ”Bring me a coffee,” or, ”Bring me lunch.” 

‘I wouldn’t be exercising, and I’d get worse. 

Because I live alone, I have to look after myself. I do my own cooking, shopping and washing.

Several years ago, Lal was also diagnosed with dementia after some warning signs – he saw someone and couldn’t remember their name, then forgot where he’d seen something.

Lal responded with independence and confidence. 

‘When I forget something, I think and think, and eventually the memory clicks. 

‘I tell myself I must do it. Your body reacts according to what you think and what you tell yourself. Otherwise you will sink.’

Close to nature 

Lal is determined that dementia won’t stop him living a full life. 

My target is to live to 100. I’m living my own life. Every day I write a list so I know to go to the bank, go shopping, meet a friend. 

‘I write everything in order and start my list. My day is a successful day. I never go to bed and think, “I forgot to do something.”‘ 

He lives by himself but doesn’t feel alone. Lal spent his early life with plants and animals and feels close to nature. 

‘We all enjoy the same sunlight, the same energy, the same rain and darkness. 

‘We all have our own little way of living, but we live together. They are all our neighbours, and we should know them all. 

‘So many of the trees and plants produce things for us to eat. We should be friendly with them because they are the mother and father, providing food for us. 

‘Sometimes I look at a tree and, if just one branch is waving in the breeze, I think it is waving at me, welcoming me as a friend.

‘I have worked out that a year in the life of a tree is equal to one of our days. 

‘We get up in the morning, get dressed, do our work, and get undressed in the evening. 

‘The trees grow their leaves in the spring, grow their flowers and fruit, then shed their leaves in the autumn and it is time to sleep again. That’s how much we have in common.’

Lal Kissoon meets Sam, director of Resonate Arts, for coffee

Special knowledge 

Resonate Arts, which produces creative activities with and for people with dementia, works with Lal. 

He has a close bond with its Director, Sam, who provides a willing ear for details of his philosophy of life, and his positive approach to everyday living. 

‘Sam helps me as a friend. We talk and I like his opinion. It makes me feel good that I’ve thought about something in the right way,’ says Lal. 

Sam encouraged me to attend meetings, speak publicly, and express myself. He sensed that I had some special kind of knowledge and wanted to help me express it.

Through the charity, Lal was able to participate in its Cognitive Stimulation Therapy programme at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

He later reported back to the V&A as a ‘mystery shopper’, describing the difficulties of finding your way from exhibit to exhibit as someone with dementia, in a bid to make things easier for visitors.

Joy from remembering 

Talking to Lal, dementia never seems foremost in his mind. 

‘Dementia doesn’t upset me,’ he explains. ‘When you reach a certain age, your brain starts to develop in a different way. 

‘If you tell yourself, ”I must remember things,” you can use your force to bring your memories back.’ 

For Lal, independence is key. 

‘I’ve been offered to live in a home, my children offer to bring me food. I say no. I look after myself. Life is what you make it.’ 

This includes reminiscing about his life up to now. 

Sometimes I sit down and think about when I drove my car all over Europe, and taking the ship across the Atlantic. There is so much I have done that I get such joy from remembering. There are things I can’t do again but I’m so happy I’ve done them before. 

‘I have no fears for the future,’ he adds. ‘I will do everything I can to carry on living. I want to live an active and helpful life. 

‘I come from a forest in South Trinidad, where my father and my brothers grew sugarcane. 

‘Look where I ended up – in a highly responsible job in London W1, the City in Westminster. 

‘I feel proud of what I’ve achieved and I have nothing to worry about,’ he says. 

‘When we are positive and hopeful, the world is ours.’

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Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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