Garlic bread

17 10 2010

By Jasmin Martin

My nan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in February of this year. She isn’t alone – there are 465,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the UK today, a number forecast to rise rapidly as the population ages. This isn’t the first case of Alzheimer’s in my family, my nan’s older sister, Nelle, is currently suffering from the disease but is in a more advanced stage. Two of her other sisters, Phylis and Kath, also died from dementia.

Ever since I can remember, we have spent Sunday mornings round my nan’s house where she would spend most of her time fussing about in the kitchen preparing enough food and drink to feed an army. When she took time out, she would chatter away to my mum and dad asking numerous questions, as my brother, Darryl, and I would make a mess on the floor with the endless amounts of toys and stationery she provided us with. One of my favourite memories from my childhood was when me and my brother took my nan’s knitting wool and wound it around every piece of furniture in her front room to create our very own crystal maze task. Our parents were angry, but nan just laughed. Thats what nan’s like. Was like.

Now, since being diagnosed we are never sure what we will be greeted with:  stale bread, out-of-date coleslaw, a puzzled face, an empty house. And this is where the garlic bread comes in: a few weeks ago nan was cooking garlic bread which she left in the oven. After smelling burning, I pulled the cremated bread out before it had the chance to catch fire. Another fire hazard my dad noticed last week were cigarette burns in her carpet. She has started smoking again, which she successfully gave up after suffering cancer for the second time. In 2000, she showed the early signs of ovarian cancer resulting in a hysterectomy and having her ovaries removed. In 2004, she lost her hair through chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. She has also suffered from depression all her life, receiving electric shock treatment in the 1960s.

Luckily it was a Sunday and we were there to prevent any accidents happening. She insists the garlic bread was a one off, but it is her safety that worries my family and I the most.  And since my grandad passed away in May 1998, when I was only 5 years old, she has lived on her own. It is sad how my nan can barely remember my grandad: what he died of, when he died, what job he used to do, when they got married. She finds it difficult to even remember things about herself. She has a psychiatric nurse who visits monthly and gives her memory tests sometimes accompanied by a doctor. Most recently nan couldn’t say what country she was in, the year, the date, the month, what she had for dinner, what she done yesterday. Yet amazingly she can still remember being evacuated to a farm in Yorkshire during the war, where the people she lived with would make her stand over newspaper as they combed her hair for head lice.

Being her only grandchildren, nan used to ask every detail of mine and Darryl’s life . We still tell her things weekly: Darryl is studying maths at Bristol University, I am on a journalism course and passed my driving test in June. Yet every week she appears shocked as to how I got to her house and why Darryl isn’t there.

As my first blog, I wanted to write about something that is close to me and thousands of other families watching a loved one battle this terrible disease. Unlike Terry Prachett who is often in the media talking about his experience suffering from Alzheimers, my nan is unaware and in denial that she has a problem. Nan has always been stubborn, and still insists she is perfectly capable of looking after herself. Unfortunately we know this is not the case. I admire the work of researchers and scientists trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. If scientists could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years, the number of people who die with the disease could be halved.

I think it is fair to say my nan has been through more than anyone could imagine in her life. Yet she still manages to laugh and smile anything off that comes her way. She is a true inspiration. If only she would remember when I tell her.




One response

17 10 2010

Sorry to hear about your nan. Mine suffered from dementia and it is a hard thing to watch. You’ve recorded it very well though, just wanted to say that although sad, this is my favourite blog so far – very honest and sincere. There’s way too much ‘unsubtle irony’ in blogging (i’m very guilty..) probably becuase it’s really hard to write about yourself without feeling self conscious, and thus tinging everything with a bit of over-zelous style and humour. Well done for saying what you wanted to say and saying it well.

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