Thanks to high profile campaigns and celebrity support, today’s society is far more familiar with Alzheimer’s and dementia than it was a decade ago. Fiona however, has been acquainted with the terms for far longer, after her mother Amy suffered from dementia (the most common form of Alzheimer’s) for a decade before she was even diagnosed, eventually dying in 2006.
Looking back now, Fiona believes her mother began to change as far back as the early 1990s, but knowing very little about dementia back then Fiona and her father continued as normal. Post diagnosis Fiona reported feeling extreme guilt. Why had she not noticed? Had she done enough? Should she have given up work to look after her mother full time?
Fiona found the burden of care a heavy one to bear, regularly doing 10-hour round trips to her parents home in Wales from London every weekend, as well as continuing with her television job every weekday.
Before her mother received her official diagnosis she also battled breast cancer, and Fiona explains how the care she received then for her physical health was markedly different from that which she received for her mental health.
“The system gave her the gold service when she had breast cancer. She couldn’t have had better care – but when it’s elderly mental illness, it’s very different.” Said Fiona.
Just a few weeks after Fiona’s mother passed away, her father Neville was then diagnosed with the same disease.
This time, Fiona decided to give up her 12-year position at GMTV in order to spend more time with her father. She has also become an active member of the Alzheimer’s Society, and frequently receives a deluge of letters from members of the public telling stories of their own friends and families suffering with the illness.
“The problems around dementia care are immense,” says Fiona. “Not least because the area is grossly under-staffed and under-funded. It’s almost fashionable to talk about dementia now, but still no one is doing anything. It’s time to stop talking and for something to actually be done.”
As it stands, dementia is treated as a social care issue, but Fiona and many other campaigners are hoping for a change in approach from the Government so that dementia is reclassified as a medical issue and thus funded by the Department of Health.
Fiona described how her father’s last months were spent in a psychiatric ward where he was given an A4 sheet worth of antipsychotic drugs and sedatives on a daily basis. The drugs transformed him and may have even shortened his lifespan – an approach to care that Fiona is still extremely angry about and hopes to change.
She went on to say how the mental health units who look after patients such as her father are generally understaffed, not equipped to deal with dementia patients and blast patients with drugs in a bid to keep them in bed – an environment no-one would want to leave their loved ones in.
“It is like taking on a life, not just an illness. That’s what hits you when someone you love has it.” Said Fiona.
If you have dementia or you are looking after someone who does then you will know that the emotional impact can be huge. You don’t have to struggle through on your own – try to build a strong support network of family and friends around you and get in touch with a counsellor to discuss your thoughts and feelings in total confidence. Visit our dementia fact-sheet to find out more.
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