A TELEVISION sports presenter whose parents both have dementia has told of her sadness that her mother may not recognise her after lockdown ends, saying: “The window is closing every day.”

Alison Walker’s parents Sandy, 88, and Olive, 85, are in the same care home and she is thankful they still recognise each other “most of the time.”

However, with family visits to care homes not permitted until at least August, ex-BBC presenter Ms Walker says there is a real risk her mother will not know her after almost 
six months apart. 

The mother-of-two decided to create a picture book that care home staff can share with her mother to help trigger and lock in precious family memories, including celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

HeraldScotland:

Ms Walker, who lives in Glasgow and is now a freelance presenter, said: “My dad doesn’t recognise me at all but mum does, just.

“But at the end of this, who knows? 

“When someone has dementia that window is closing, all the time. Every day that window closes just a little bit more and it’s closing as we speak.

“If mum had the choice of six months where she could go out with the family and do stuff or living another three or four years and being shut away in a prison, I  know which choice she would take.

“Recognition is the one thing we are hanging on to right now.

“I just thought, ‘what can I do here? I need to keep it really simple and straightforward and not confuse her with too many pictures.

“It wasn’t just a matter of throwing photographs together. I thought quite carefully about how she would react to each one.

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“I  thought there may be care workers going through it with her who don’t know her story. 

“So, it says things like, ‘This is James, your first son, he lives in Bangkok. 

“This is your husband, you’ve been married for 60 years, he’s called Sandy.”

HeraldScotland:

Ms Walker, who was born in Hamilton but lives in Glasgow was able to witness her mother’s reaction to the book on Skype a few days ago.

She said: “She couldn’t communicate with me on Skype because she was smiling so much so I’m feeling full of gladness right now.

“She was completely focused on the book and kept saying, ‘lovely, lovely, marvellous, wonderful – the whole way through. To get that reaction was lovely.”

Alzheimer Scotland say the pandemic has caused “increased levels of stress, distress and anxiety” for the dementia community while Glasgow’s Golden Generation, which runs day centres for older people, said it has experienced a sharp increase in calls to its helpline.

Ms Walker’s father was diagnosed with vascular dementia about eight years ago, while her mother, a former midwife, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015.

She believes her mother’s illness was brought on by to the stress of caring for her husband. She has three brothers and says there was no family history of dementia.
Ms Walker said: “It just came out of nowhere.

“We are a really sporty family, mum played tennis and golf, dad played golf, we eat relatively healthy.

“I think a lot of is is down to stress. Dad was a GP in the 1970s in Hamilton and he was on call during the night, throughout the week. I think it was the stress of that.

“And it’s the added factors, like maybe drinking too much to cope with the stress.

“We decided to put them in the same care home because they still recognise each other, just.

“I go over and my son’s girlfriend goes over, two or three times a week normally. That familiarity is very important and that’s been cut.

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“It’s a fine balance between keeping them well and safe and looking after their mental health because it has been shot to pieces right now.

“I used to take mum to a ballet class, run by Scottish Ballet at the Tron (theatre). It’s not just about moving and getting her out, it’s the contact with other people – she’s missing all that.

HeraldScotland:

“Dad doesn’t make any sense at all now but if you mention key topics like beer or Hamilton Accies or Olive you get a reaction.  We are lucky in some respects in that they don’t seem to be aware of what’s going on in the outside world so they don’t have the stress of worrying about that.

“It’s a tough, tough illness. But you find little chinks of light in any situation.”

HeraldScotland:

The Herald and Glasgow Times Think Dementia campaign is calling for improved care, support and treatment of people with the disease including free medical costs in the final years.