My mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 21 and her dementia progressed very quickly. She hasn’t been able to communicate with me for much of my adult life, except for a smile when I arrive to visit her. Despite this she has taught me some of life’s most important lessons over the past seven years without saying a word.
Here are the five things that I’ve learnt from my mum’s journey with dementia:
1. Seize the day
It’s clichéd but you really should seize the day. Although it’s pessimistic, you can’t be sure that you will be around to follow your ambitions later in life. Don’t put life off; have adventures now, do something a little crazy and try something new.
2. Don’t be afraid of difficult decisions
The dementia journey has been a string of difficult choices; which care home to choose? Do we adopt a Do Not Resuscitate order? Should we treat cancer? There isn’t a right answer and you always question your choices, but you have to make them anyway. Sometimes all you can do is trust your gut and go with it.
3. Celebrate achievements and talents
Nowadays I’m always telling people what an amazing and talented woman my mum is, and I wonder why I didn’t do this more often before she was ill. We should brush off the British tendency towards self-deprecation and understatement and celebrate the achievements of our friends and family loudly.
4. Work out what’s important in life pronto
Some people don’t work out what really matters to them until late in life, when they regret all the hours spent working late or trying to impress the neighbours. Dementia has taught me that the most important thing in my life are my friends and family. I hope that realising what matters early on will save me many regrets when I’m older and it’s too late to redistribute precious time.
5. Don’t underestimate small pleasures
My mum barely communicates with the outside world but I know that she still enjoys music because she sometimes taps her foot in time to a CD. It’s easy to focus our happiness on big holidays, exciting parties and new purchases, but the small pleasures like music make us just as happy. We should try to find small pleasures every day.
- Read an interview with Jade in The Independent.