Claire recently lost her Granddad to Alzheimer’s disease and will be taking part in this year’s Dundee Kiltwalk in his memory. During her Granddad’s illness, Claire’s family received support from the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Resource Centre in Dundee. Here, Claire tells us about their experience and how she believes that with the right support, people can live well with dementia.
“My Granddad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018. For a while before this, we’d noticed that something wasn’t quite right. He would often repeat the same stories, not realising that he had already told us. He was a lorry driver for most of his life and was car daft, but we’d also noticed that sometimes, he was forgetting which lane to drive in, or how to get to places that were in his local area. This frustrated him and it led to arguments with family if anyone tried to correct him. More and more often, he was relying on my Grandma to tell him what to do, or to finish his stories as he’d forgotten the thread of what he was saying. We began to piece things together ourselves and my Grandma contacted the doctors for an appointment. Following this, my Granddad underwent a series of tests and was eventually confirmed to have Alzheimer’s disease.
"It’s a scary thing to be told someone you love has this condition - it takes a while to process and to deal with. The positive side for my Granddad was that medication and treatments could begin and advice was given about what help was available to him. He also had a few other health issues going on, one being ulcerative colitis which meant that tablet medication wasn’t suitable for him, so was prescribed patches instead. They seemed to help and for a while, there really wasn’t much change in his day-to-day life.
"My Granddad was very open about his diagnosis; he’d tell people about it and let them know that he was still able to do things he enjoyed, from making himself a coffee, to cleaning his car and taking care of the garden. Gradually though, he did start having to rely on my Grandma much more. He needed her to remind him what he was doing, and how to tackle certain things. As time went on, she had to constantly repeat herself as he would ask the same questions over and over. This was sometimes a tiring and frustrating process and highlighted to us how important it is to have support.
"We’d visit often and my Mum would take Grandma shopping or out for lunch, just to give her a break and a change of scenery. We would sit in the house with Granddad, chat to him, do activities that interested him, or take him out to places that might trigger some of his memories.
"Grandma wanted Granddad to get as much support as possible. We are a close family and we all pitched in to help. When they began to access the services on offer at Alzheimer Scotland’s Dundee Dementia Resource Centre, they both got so much from it. Community activities allowed them to make new memories and enjoy their time together. Coffee catch-up sessions gave my Granddad an opportunity to engage with the support workers in a relaxed way, sometimes while having a refreshment and a game of pool. Meanwhile, Grandma sat with other carers, which enabled her to connect with people living through a similar experience. She made some great friends which has been such a comfort. Being able to relate to others who know what she’s going through has made her feel much less alone – they all have similar stories and are able to share their thoughts and feelings about the struggles they’re facing.
"One of my grandparent’s favourite activities at the Resource Centre was ‘Boogie in the Bar’. Back in the day, they met at the dancing and so they loved going along to these sessions - the music was right up their street, what they danced to when they were younger. Afterwards, Granddad would come home and tell me he had so much fun (even when he couldn’t fully remember where he’d been). I think this is so important – even when he couldn’t remember all the details, he knew it had been a positive experience and that he’d enjoyed himself.
"Grandma often accessed the respite care service that was offered at the Resource Centre. On Fridays, she dropped Granddad off for a few hours and was able to go out and do some shopping and other things that were easier on her own. She felt comfortable leaving him in the care of the Alzheimer Scotland staff as she knew them and most importantly, they knew Granddad. She used this service most frequently when Granddad’s dementia was impacting him greatly. At one session, staff noticed a change in his behaviour. They knew something wasn’t quite right because they had a connection with him and were familiar with his normal behaviour. They contacted my Grandma straight away, so she was able to get him to the doctors that same day.
."He was admitted to a care centre to have his medication assessed and the changes to his health monitored closely. This was in March 2020, just at the start of lockdown for Covid-19. He remained there for a prolonged period but during that time, unfortunately there was a rapid decline in his health. Once lockdown was lifted, the hard decision was made for Granddad to move into a care home on a permanent basis. It was such a hard time for everyone. Granddad was in a care home from the beginning of the pandemic, but staff tried hard to maintain family communications. They offered online catch-up sessions with my Grandma, which was a lifeline to not only for my family - but to everyone dealing with dementia from home.
"They also set up online tours at the Victoria and Albert Museum in Dundee, which gave them something to engage with while being at home. The friendships that were created during this time still mean so much. My Grandma still meets up with some of the other carers that she met through the coffee catch up activities every week. Sadly, many of the women she became friends with have now lost their husbands. Some are in care homes now and a few are still at home. Whatever the circumstances, they have all have been positively impacted by the amazing work of the Dundee Dementia Resource Centre, and the support they offer to people facing dementia in Scotland.
"My Granddad was my best friend. He was always that first one I called when something amazing happened - and the first one I called if something bad happened. He was caring to everyone and would do anything he could to help you. He was trouble though! When I was younger, we could always count on him winding all the grandkids up… leading to him getting into trouble from our parents. The last thing that we were able to do together was to go out to the theatre to see ‘Oor Wullie’. It was a special experience and something I’ll always remember. The sadness I feel now that he has gone can sometimes be overwhelming. I know there are going to be tough times, they might often feel like they outnumber the good - but I know I don’t have to face it alone. There is so much help from Alzheimer Scotland to help support people with dementia and their carers.
"On August 20, 2023, my fiancé David and I are taking part in the Dundee Kiltwalk for Alzheimer Scotland in memory of my Granddad. Between us, we have raised over £500. This will be given back to the charity that supported my grandparents through one of the toughest times in their lives."
We wish Claire and David the very best of luck for their walk! We hope the sun shines for you! You can donate to Claire's Dundee Kiltwalk JustGiving page here. If you require any further support or guidance, please contact our 24 hour Freephone Dementia Helpline: 0808 808 3000 or find your nearest Dementia Resource Centre here.