My grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it’s not that I was too young or innocent but I didn’t know much about it then. I couldn’t even tell you the year it happened. That I feel awful about (but this isn’t about me). In 2012 she passed away, in a lovely home but not alone. Somehow, the inner strength she no longer knew had outlived the hero that was my grandad. My story is for both of them. Grandma Gwen and Grandad Jack Scowen. A slightly unhinged but gentle woman, and an inspirational, wholehearted man who together share one half of our family, our beginnings as Scowens.
We went to visit them in Salisbury, Wiltshire. There was always a sign to Nomansland which we would giggle every time we saw it, knowing we were closer to the grandparents. We said our ‘hellos’ and wondered to the living room, awaiting some tea and biscuits. In came grandma, and looked to her right, straight at me sitting on the sofa. “What’s your name?” she asked me.
My insides honestly crumbled. I had that sick heart beat right in your stomach – kind of like how I do now writing this. “Kelly” I mumbled back and as she turned her attention elsewhere I got up and headed straight for the toilet for a right old sob (not uncommon for those who know me, but maybe warranted in this instance). It’s a sinking-ship feeling and one I’m sure so many of us understand. Funnily enough, the rest of that visit is a bit of a blur.
Anyway, I’m not heading for a sob story or sympathy. Because from there my grandad dedicated his life to caring for her, trying to make everything okay – help to remember things, assist in everyday things we don’t give two thoughts about. It saddens me that there wasn’t immediate help or unfunded support available to professionally take care of my grandma. Support that might have extended my grandad’s life a few more years, to love her through everything. Because even though she didn’t know who she was, she knew him. And I’m so happy I knew them. They gave me my dad; who is a bit of a legend! So if there’s anything, at all, to learn. Be thankful. Make sure the people you love, know it. There’s nothing much more important than that because one day, it might not be there.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease develop gradually; it is a progressive condition. Today, nearly 800,000 people in the UK suffer from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. Although the cause is relatively unknown and we can sometimes try and make it a softer subject by saying “it’s because we’re all living longer”, it doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve come across many people who have experienced Alzheimer’s in their lives – and often it’s a common ground in conversation but it’s not a comforting thing. It’s actually a little unnerving.
Alzheimer’s Society is a membership organisation which works to improve the quality of life of people affected by dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They work to support and research for people with dementia, the families and carers. There are over 20,000 members offering 2,000 services. Staff and volunteers offer day care and home care for families and partners to cope with the demands of the disease. I’m only running 10k, but I’m doing it to help Alzheimer’s research and support. Thank you if you choose to donate a few pennies, it means so much. It gives an extra spur of motivation to feel like you’re making a difference. As Tesco’s would say, “Every Little Helps”.