‘Dementia has caused my parents to forget each other – but now I’m fighting back’

22 February 2018

Wally and Audrey Catterill have been married for almost 60 years, but they no longer recognise each other.

Both are living with dementia and now reside in separate care homes because Wally became aggressive and confused when his wife could no longer recognise him.

Wally and Audrey Catterill

The situation is a distressing one for Lynn Oliver, the couple’s only daughter. Having two parents with dementia often leaves her feeling powerless.

The 51-year-old Stevenage woman decided to run London Landmarks Half Marathon to help raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, with the hope that one day other families will be spared from the pain she has been through.

London Landmarks is a new central London run and is the only half marathon to go through both the City of London and City of Westminster. Runners will start on Pall Mall, finish by Downing Street and have fabulous views of London’s most iconic landmarks.

Lynn Oliver at her wedding with parents and daughter

Running the half marathon helps to give Lynn some control in a situation that has been incredibly difficult ever since her mother first started to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 2001.

She said:

“My mum and dad came with us to Hawaii when I married my husband Phil in 2001. At the time, we thought she must have become ill on the plane, because she wasn’t herself when we were there. When we got home, we brought her to the GP and she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“She was only in her mid-sixties at the time. We thought she had years ahead of her to spend with us, but her diagnosis changed everything. After a few years passed, she could no longer be cared for at home. It was too much of a strain on dad, so we made the difficult choice to move her into a care home.”

A few years later, Lynn had to confront the devastating reality that her dad also had dementia, after a series of strokes led to a diagnosis of vascular dementia. Recently, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease too.

“Originally, when we decided we needed to move dad into a care home too, we moved him in with mum. But she wouldn’t speak to him and didn’t recognise him, so he became aggressive. It was a really hard time for us all. Sadly, we had to move him to a different care home. It became clear that they could no longer be together because she didn’t know who he was.

“Neither of them recognise anybody in the family anymore. I shut down my own feelings to a certain extent. It’s obviously very upsetting when your parents aren’t your parents anymore.”

Both Audrey and Wally came from families that have sadly also been touched by dementia. Audrey has tragically lost two siblings in recent years to the condition. Meanwhile, Wally has one surviving sister, who also has dementia.

“It is totally devastating. This disease has stolen so much of my mum and dad, piece by piece, and to see it happening to their siblings – my aunts and uncles – is awful.”

When Lynn heard about the London Landmarks Half Marathon, she knew she wanted to run it to raise funds for dementia research.

“I’ve always wanted to do a half marathon and with both my parents having dementia, Alzheimer’s Research UK is a charity that is close to my heart. I saw this marathon come up and I thought I’d try it.”

“With mum and dad, I often feel like there’s nothing I can do to help them. By raising money for dementia research, I feel like I’m contributing in some way to stopping this from happening to other families. I don’t want any family to have to experience what I’ve seen happen to my mum and dad.”

Kenneth Foreman, Senior Sporting Events Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, praised Lynn for her bravery in speaking out about her devastating experience with dementia.

“We are in awe of Lynn for coming out to tell people about her mum and dad’s experience with dementia. It is vital that we raise awareness about this devastating disease and also raise vital funds to power world-class research into dementia.

“We would like to thank Lynn for her fundraising efforts, which are helping us edge closer every day to ending the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK is one of the main charity partners for London Landmarks Half Marathon and will be bringing a large group of volunteers to cheer on the runners, with special activities planned at Cheapside. The cheer station will pay homage to London’s much-loved markets with traditional stalls and volunteers dressed as stallholders handing out oranges as part of the charity’s Share the Orange campaign.

For information about joining the charity’s Cheer Squad for London Landmarks or other sporting events, go to www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/volunteering/cheer-squad

For further information about Alzheimer’s Research UK, or to find out more about fundraising for the charity, call 0300 111 5555 or visit www.alzheimersresearchuk.org