On Monday, I spent some time with my students discussing the art of interviewing on radio. After we’d listened to some notable interviews, I gave the students a chance to try it for themselves, with me as the interviewee. One of the scenarios I used was a fictitious campaign by a dementia charity highlighting early-onset or younger people’s dementia. I played the part of a man who’d been diagnosed with dementia at the age of 50. Now, I’m now renowned for my ability as an actor – for my debut on stage at junior school, I spent all my time with my back turned resolutely to the audience. My performances didn’t improve much in the years which followed but, though I say it myself, I’ve rarely acted better than I did on Monday.
It wasn’t difficult for me to immerse myself in my role. I only had to think of Mum. At the end of the interview, my interrogator appeared to be genuinely moved.
“Can I ask,” she said, “do you have it?”
Wow, I must have been good! Her question took me by surprise. Clearly, my performance had been convincing – perhaps too convincing. When someone close to you has dementia, you can’t help but look for signs. When I can’t remember something – and that happens rather too often for comfort – I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound, to quote the folk singer Tom Paxton. Silly, probably – inevitable, almost certainly. It’s that dementia thing.
The faux interview brought home to me again how little people whose lives haven’t been touched by dementia know about the disease. The challenge – to raise awareness about all aspects of dementia – remains as pressing as ever. It’s getting on for five years since Mum’s diagnosis, and in that time, I think I’ve acquired some knowledge on the subject. But as Professor Dawn Brooker, of the University of Worcester, recently said at a dementia awareness event I attended:
“When you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia.”
My experience of the disease is just that – it’s my experience. I only have to look around Mum’s care home to know that no two dementia stories are the same. And, it’s hard to now what will happen next.
My experience of dementia can be positive and it can be negative. When Mum drifts away from me, as she did this morning, it’s hard to see the value of my visit. Last week was different, though. I took two of Mum’s oldest friends to see her. Carole was at junior school with Mum and they’ve been close friends ever since. Pam is Mum’s cousin and was a bridesmaid at her wedding. Mum greeted us with a warm smile and although I can’t be sure she knew who Carole and Pam were, she followed our conversation and seemed to take genuine pleasure from our visit.
Amidst all the uncertainty, it’s important to treasure the times we still spend together.