I’ve been working for Royal Mail for five years, and this year I started in the newly formed Strategic Business Development team. During World Alzheimer’s Month in September, Royal Mail supported Alzheimer’s Research UK by opening their Think Brain Health e-learning to employees. Through this, I discovered that one in two people will know someone affected by dementia, that’s half of my colleagues! That’s why I want to share a small glimpse of my personal experience, and how I’ve found hope for the future of dementia.
My grandmother on my mother’s side, or as I would call her in Swedish, ‘Mormor’, lived in Sweden with the other half of my family. I visited every summer as a child but didn’t get to visit her as frequently as an adult. She was a good ol’ bird, a loving woman with sharp wit and a dry sense of humour.
Among some of the fond memories I have of her in Sweden, she taught me skills I use today, like baking. Some of the dishes we cooked were Swedish house favourites, like Sockerkakka, Janssons Frestelse, sillsalat and kanelbullar – although I must say I’m not very good at cooking these!
I remember one time we were in the kitchen in Sweden, and she’d lined up lots of strange, small items on the counter. These items included an empty, plastic ice-cream tub, and a blue glass ornament. When she asked me, “what one would you like to take home?”, the penny dropped. I realised that to her, she’d presented what she thought were treasured and valuable keepsakes, but to me, most of the items clearly didn’t hold much value. Her dementia had progressed, and she was losing her sharpness. Although I felt sad to witness the change in her personality, I decided to play along with her suggestion and keep the blue ornament which has since grown in sentimental value.
A few years ago, some time after I’d last visited her, my mother showed me a photograph of Mormor. The photograph shocked me. She was sitting in a home and had deteriorated so much, she didn’t look anything like the Mormor I once knew and loved. My mother must have read the expression on my face as she told me to “remember her the way she was” and not the way she looked in that photograph.
Sadly, Mormor died with Alzheimer’s two years ago. And she isn’t the only family member with the condition. My aunt, Lotte, developed early onset dementia when she was in her fifties, and it worries me more as I approach the same age. We realised Lotte had dementia when she asked her daughter how we celebrate Christmas, and we could no longer put her forgetfulness down to menopause. She’s now in a home in her sixties, and with COVID-19 making visiting difficult, it’s very hard for my family in Sweden.
The last time we met, my family felt it was necessary to talk openly about the likelihood of us developing the condition. I personally decided against it. I felt dementia research had a little further to go before I could find anything positive to focus on, but I hoped to see much better treatments available in my lifetime.
My experience has been a test of nerve, wit, patience, and endurance. For a while, I couldn’t see how we would ever find a cure. However, Alzheimer’s Research UK provides tools such as its Think Brain Health e-learning course dedicated to better understanding of dementia and risk reduction. Before taking the course, I never knew dementia wasn’t a natural part of ageing! These learnings have made me realise we’re at a tipping point in dementia research and there are steps my family can take to reduce our risk of developing dementia, and it’s given me much-needed hope for our future.
If you’d like to learn more about dementia, or how to reduce your risk, visit: https://alzheimersresearchuk.org/brain-health/think-brain-health
If you’d like to nominate Alzheimer’s Research UK to be a charity partner where you work, visit: https://alzheimersresearchuk.org/how-you-can-help/partnerships/corporate-partnerships/nominate-us-to-be-your-charity-partner
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