Dementia completely changed my dad – almost overnight.
He was diagnosed with vascular dementia after a stroke in the summer of 2020. I didn’t really know what this meant, until my mum called me for help a couple of weeks after the diagnosis.
Dad was in such a state when I arrived. He was inexplicably panicking about his car. Eventually, we took it to be serviced, even though nothing was wrong, to put his mind at ease.
He just wasn’t himself at all.
But instances like this grew more frequent. Dad began worrying about all sorts of things. For example, wanting us to turn off the water at the mains because he thought the pipes were going to freeze, burst, and we were all going to drown in our beds – even though the weather was mild.
After a long hard battle, we sadly lost dad on February 14, aged 88.
This year will be my first Father’s Day without him, and I know it will be hard – it always will be.
After his diagnosis, Dad’s personality started to change from sweet, calm, and loving to frustrated, agitated, and anxious.
We just didn’t know how to help him.
I remember feeling so helpless and frustrated myself. I couldn’t seem to reassure or reason with him.
Dad withdrew into a shell – not just mentally, but physically, too. He couldn’t walk far and not without a walker; couldn’t use the toilet, get dressed, shower, eat and drink, or go to bed unaided. He hated having to rely on everyone else for everything.
Although it was demanding caring for him, we all did it – without question.
We cherished every moment we still had him. He always had a grin, a flurry of kisses, and an ‘I love you, my darling’ for us all – even in his last days.
Now I’m facing my first Father’s Day without that smile, and I feel so lost. Without him in my life, the world isn’t quite right anymore.
It felt easier to cope during the initial weeks after he died, because we had a funeral to plan. We wanted to give him the send-off he deserved, but once that special day finished, the real grief began.
My poor dad might have lived until his late eighties, but he was robbed of so much life. He recovered from bowel cancer in his early sixties, only to get prostate cancer and then terminal cancer.
I received a card that said: ‘Love always, Mum’. For the first time in 45 years, the word ‘dad’ wasn’t there.
Then, we lost my eldest sister from cardiac arrhythmia in her sleep, aged 56, with no warning that anything was wrong. My parents were never the same after that.
A year later, dad had the same happen to him — but, luckily, we were on Bournemouth beach, and RNLI lifeguards saved his life.
Several strokes later, he was diagnosed with dementia — and everything went downhill fast.
It just seemed so unfair, like he wasn’t given a break to live and enjoy his life properly.
To help our incredible mum look after him, I took some time out of work, and my other sister took early retirement. Several months later, we finally had a care plan in place — and I started working again, this time at Alzheimer’s Society, as a social media officer, inspired by my experience of dementia.
I was wholly unprepared for living with vascular dementia, I thought it was decline in memory. I was so wrong.
Many of us think dementia is all about memory loss, but symptoms can include mood changes, anxiety, periods of sudden confusion, out-of-character behaviour such as agitation, and even mild delusions. We experienced all of this with Dad.
If I could provide any advice, it would be don’t be afraid to tell some ‘love lies’. I found that instead of trying to explain to Dad the pipes wouldn’t burst, it was easier to say I’d turned the water off; then he’d be able to fall asleep.
When I returned to work after the funeral, I needed to find something positive to put my energies into. So, I signed up to hike 26 miles in July for the Alzheimer’s Society Trek26 event to help raise awareness of living with dementia, challenge myself and walk in memory of my hero, my phenomenal dad, Stanley Hougham.
I am still totally bereft — and worried about trekking that far without much training (I have loved hiking since a child but the furthest I’ve walked in recent years is 15 miles).
However, I know dad would have been so proud of me for taking this on. We both loved outdoor pursuits, and he was a keen marathon runner.
I know Father’s Day will be hard. My first tough ‘day’ without my dad was my birthday this May. I received a card that said: ‘Love always, Mum’. For the first time in 45 years, the word ‘Dad’ wasn’t there.
Even today, it’s astonishing how many little things can cause grief to hit you out of nowhere. I went to Screwfix recently and cried after seeing rawl plugs. Growing up, these were a staple in our house, as dad always had a DIY project on the go.
So, this Sunday, I’ve planned to be away on holiday in Italy and will be screen-free.
My dad was many wonderful things, but what stood out most about his character was his heartfelt, unfaltering love for us all — and this never disappeared, despite everything.
To support Alzheimer’s Society, take part in one of the charity’s Trek26 events, taking place in eight locations across the UK. To stop dementia in its tracks, visit alzheimers.org.uk/Trek26
More information about Alzheimer’s disease
More information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can be found at alzheimers.org.uk.
You can contact their support line on 0333 150 3456.
Source: Read Full Article