A PHD student whose studies focus on dementia care is planning to take the plunge in a zip-slide across the Clyde to raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland.

When Connor McDonald’s Dad was diagnosed with dementia, he already had some experience of the condition as he cared for his Gran as a child back in 2006. Still, his Dad’s diagnosis came as a shock.

“I remember when my parents first told me. Dad seemed more worried about checking whether I might be more likely to develop it myself. But, once we’d taken some time to adjust, we agreed to focus on today, rather than worry too much about tomorrow. There’s no point dwelling on things that have changed. Instead, we focus on what we can still do together – that helps us a lot.

I’ve always had a great relationship with Dad. We’re both huge Status Quo fans and for years, we loved going to concerts together. He’s not able to do that kind of thing anymore but those are some of my fondest memories. Thankfully, he hasn’t changed too much over the past few years so we can still do other things we enjoy, like bagpipe lessons when I was younger, or more recently, going to the cinema. For a while that was our Sunday afternoon routine and we loved it. Obviously, we live with the worry that he might begin to change but for now, we feel fortunate that Dad is still able to do things he likes.

There have been tricky times though, a couple of years ago he wanted to go out walking a lot. He was convinced he needed to go to vote so we had to quickly learn tactics to distract him. Now, through my field of study, I’m much more aware of techniques to help him focus on something else. Alzheimer Scotland has helped an awful lot, too. We’ve learned about coping strategies as well as getting practical advice and tips about daily living. But it’s more than that – Dad really enjoys going along to the Dementia Resource Centre in West Dunbartonshire where they run different activities and offer a safe, comforting environment for him to relax away from home. He enjoys the different company and it means that Mum can have a little bit of respite, too.

My PHD focuses on helping family visitors of people with dementia in care homes. I’m based in the Alzheimer Scotland Centre for Policy and Practice in the University of the West of Scotland through the Wendy Baxter scholarship and I’ve spent time connecting with her family, discussing their experiences of visiting care homes and how this can be improved for all families visiting loved ones.

It was my connection to the Baxter family that brought the prospect of doing the zip-slide to life. Dr. Baxter, Wendy’s husband, is funding my scholarship and asked if I’d like to join him to raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland. Although I’m not great with heights, I ‘jumped’ at the chance! I completed the 90k step challenge in 2022 so I’m excited about this – even if it does involve being lifted 150ft over the Clyde! I’ll be delighted to raise money to help more families like ours - it really can make all the difference. My Dad has enjoyed funded days out and activities through the Dementia Resource Centre, he’s taken part in the Alzheimer Scotland choir and Mum also applies for the Time for You fund which gives her a bit of extra money to go off and do something for herself, just for a little bit of escapism.

They have both made good friends through the choir and had a great opportunity to perform at the Scottish Ballet. These are the positives about Dad getting his diagnosis – we now know what the situation is and we’re taking good steps to deal with it. I don’t know if I’d ever have applied for my Masters or PhD if Dad hadn’t been diagnosed. It was the push I needed and has given me a focus for the rest of my life – I really want to help families in a similar position.

Getting a diagnosis isn’t as scary as it might seem initially. It’s just a diagnosis – there’s still a whole person behind it. It’s not the end of the story, it’s just the next chapter. Like my Mum always says, Dad is still Dad. He is still Danny and he’s still ours. We find that’s the important thing to focus on, the person is still there. You can still have good relationships and live a fulfilling life. Dementia just becomes part of it."

Connor and his dad, Danny, smile at the camera