In December 2017, my mum contacted me to tell me that after two years of memory tests, GP referrals and specialists; my dad had been diagnosed with dementia, aged just 58. The news came 5 days before Christmas.
I think deep down we knew that there was something not quite "right" with dad and his behaviour had changed dramatically over the preceding 2 years but a diagnosis of this magnitude is almost impossible to prepare for. Dementia is an illness that you associate with the elderly and the infirm, those in the latter stages of their lives. Not someone in their 50s who had lead a largely healthy and active lifestyle. Dementia strips a person of their ability to create new memories and as a result basic things like getting dressed, making a cup of tea, cooking dinner and even leaving the house to go to the shops become increasingly difficult.
In the spring of 2018, a family friend reached out to my mum after his wife had been diagnosed with vascular dementia, a much more aggressive form of the illness, and recommended a 2 day course at the Contented Dementia Trust in the Cotswolds. Mum booked us both on and we met Penny and her team at their HQ. The course provided us with a foundation on which to help build an environment that enables dad to continue to live his day to day life.
Since attending the course, Penny has since visited the Lincolnshire Wolds village in which my parents live to give a talk on dementia and how some basic principles can help anyone they know with the illness to live a happy and fulfilled life.
In the year since my dad's diagnosis he has gone from not recognising lifelong friends, refusing to leave the house, panicking upon waking as he didn't know what day it was and withdrawing into himself rather than attending social events to regularly going out with my mum and family friends, regularly reporting back to mum about who he has bumped into on his daily dog walks and even sourcing a Christmas present for mum completely by himself.
I firmly believe that it is through the work of Penny and her team at Contented Dementia Trust that has given my dad back an element of his pride, confidence and dignity. The things that dementia all too often takes away from it's victims.
In order to thank Penny and to in some way pay her back for the wonderful support she has given to me, my mum and our family and friends, I have decided to take part in The Great North Swim. a 10,000m open water event in Lake Windermere. The course consists of 6x 1600m (1 mile) laps in Windermere in June 2019. To put this distance into perspective, the 10k swim is an Olympic event and is the equivalent of swimming a marathon... I hope to finish the event in under 3 and a half hours which currently feels like a long time to spend in the water.
"If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you."
If you've made it this far down the page then well done and thank you for sticking with me! While I've still got your attention, please check out my mum's blog (www.memoryfortwo.com.) It offers a lighter look at living with dementia day to day and it is full of handy hints and tips of how to get through the day to day; it's not all doom and gloom.
I'd like to raise as much as possible for this wonderful charity and hope you'll dig deep and support me on this journey.