Would you trade your brain for a bus pass?
Guest post by Gill Buchanan.
This is just one of the thoughts that Wendy Mitchell has as she comes to terms with her diagnosis for young-onset dementia at the age of 58.
Dementia is not the preserve of the old.
How do we treat women like Wendy as equals?
It is very easy to write them off as incapable of having an active role in society and destined for acare home. It is very easy to show sympathy but perhaps what they want is constructive help to live something near a normal life for as long as they can.
We all need to have a better understanding of what it is like to have dementia
I came across Wendy’s book entitled, Somebody I used to know, in my favourite bookshop, Much Ado Books, in Alfriston which is near my mother’s home. I had heard of Wendy Mitchell as she was on Woman’s hour and I was very impressed with her then.
My motivation for reading her story initially was as part of the research for my latest novel, The Long Marriage. My character, Ellie, has an elderly mother, Kathleen, who has the early signs of dementia and so I wanted to understand the condition better.
Wendy’s book proved to be a remarkable insight and was very powerful in helping me to have some idea of what this disease does to you. She is incredibly brave and a fighter and I can really relate to her in this regard.
She is not going to give in to this disease, but instead stays very active, challenging herself almost daily, and devises coping strategies that are brilliant; everything from using technology to provide images of places she is visiting and set reminders for her to having a ceramic tile depicting a forget-me-not by her front door so that she can remember where she lives.
She has not only taken part in research trials to get us nearer a cure for dementia, but she has vowed to spend her time raising awareness about dementia and encouraging others to see that there is a life after diagnosis.
She has become an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society often making speeches for them. This involves travelling the country by public transport which is a major feat in itself.
She was living in York when she was diagnosed and had to leave eventually as the noise of the city became too much for her – a symptom of dementia. She moved to a village outside York where her daughter lives but still has her own place and lives independently.
How has the world adapted to help Wendy lead a fulfilling life?
Wendy had to give up a well-paid job in the NHS which obviously affected her finances. At first she got Personal Independence Payments. But when she went for an interview to be reassessed, she was on her own and when they asked her what she couldn’t do for herself, she couldn’t remember.
So they stopped her payments. Society has let her down.
There is a lack of understanding which is so important. She had to give up her driving licence. She was pleased to discover that she got a free bus pass until she realised what she’d given up for this privilege – a fully functioning brain.
She has a badge she can wear when she’s out and about which lets people know of her condition. This means if she asks for directions or just looks lost, people can help her.
There are also dementia-friendly towns all round the country, in fact my local town, Hadleigh, is one of them. Here local businesses support the cause including cafes. Hadleigh has 1,800 Dementia Friends; 39 Dementia Friendly Businesses and three Dementia-inclusive social activities every week.
Dementia Friends help people living with dementia by firstly understanding the condition. Then they can help in many ways from visiting people with dementia, to being more patient when they come across someone with dementia.
Wendy is very lucky in that she has two very supportive daughters. It’s heart breaking to read that her greatest fear is forgetting who they are. Wendy Mitchell is a truly inspirational woman and a credit to womankind.
Next time you come across someone who seems lost and confused, give them the time, patience and respect that dementia sufferers deserve.
To find out more about Gill Buchanan go to: gillbuchanan.co.uk
Image courtesy of Pixabay