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Ronnie Wade used to stay at home because of dementia now Belfast man's fronting publicity drive

By Allan Preston

For Ronnie Wade there is nothing better than watching his two grandsons open their Christmas presents.

But it is a special day the Belfast-born 71-year-old and his family have had to rethink since his dementia diagnosis.

For the past two years Ronnie has stayed in Hemsworth Court, near the Shankill Road, in supported housing that gives him his independence, with help at hand if he needs it.

"I can still do things for myself - I keep my flat clean and do my own washing," he said.

"The staff here are good. They come in the morning with my medication and ask me if I'd like anything made for dinner."

Ronnie is spending the holidays with his son, Mark, daughter-in-law Mary and his two grandsons, Nathan and Curtis.

"I like the two boys opening their presents," he said. "They don't open them until I come up, and then they remind me, 'Granda, this is what you bought me for Christmas'.

"They get these video games, I can't play them, but I can still play snooker."

Ronnie recently appeared on TV screens for a Public Health Agency (PHA) advert in which he reminds viewers, "I'm still me". The awareness campaign aims to help the public understand the needs of people living with dementia.

When Ronnie started experiencing symptoms, the uncertainty was terrifying.

"I started not paying things, and I would have to get my son down and search round and go through my messages," he said.

"After that I refused to go out. I just sat in the house 24 hours a day and got really depressed.

"My son and his wife took me out one day to a cafe in Sandy Row. A crowd came in and I couldn't stand it, so I came back to my flat again."

Today, Ronnie looks forward to meeting friends every Friday in a group organised by the Dementia NI charity, which has helped him feel more at ease.

"I didn't open my mouth at first, but then I started to listen and find out more about what was going on with the dementia, which is helping me, and I like that," he said.

At this time of year his family takes practical steps to help him in ways such as maintaining a routine. "At Christmas I like ham and also I love vegetable soup," he said, "and pavlova for dessert is a must."

At the dinner table, the tremors in his hands mean Ronnie sometimes needs a little help.

Keeping the layout of the table simple makes things easier for him, as too much decoration or clutter can feel overwhelming. Excessive background noise, such as loud music, TV or chatting, can also be a problem.

Rather than being left in the corner, Ronnie's family talks to him, which has helped "steady his nerves", and he enjoys telling tales from his youth.

"For Christmas I used to get a wooden gun with a cowboy hat, an apple and an orange. I'd also get two shillings," he recalled.

"We used to go out and play cowboys and Indians on the Belfast streets.

"You ask yourself how you can remember that and things like the old trams, then all of a sudden lose it and be asking, 'What's happening here?'

A recent episode of Emmerdale showing Christmas from the point of view of someone with dementia moved Ronnie.

"That was scary, but it's a good idea to put that on - it's a true story," he said.

"It would make you cry, but they're doing what we're trying to do, which is raise the awareness. Some people don't want to listen."

Eleanor Ross, nurse consultant at the PHA, has led the dementia awareness campaign this year.

"The big message for us is to keep the family all included," she said.

"There can be a tendency to keep someone with dementia in the corner of the room, which can feel very lonely.

"Try to keep interacting with them and focus in on those hobbies and activities they enjoyed, whether it's carol singing, baking or decorating the tree."

She also urged families not to be scared of starting difficult conversations with each other over the holidays.

"Getting people talking is the main thing, and I know a lot of people have a lot of fear around dementia," Eleanor said.

"But so many people we work with say they were very glad to get their diagnosis.

"It allowed them to pinpoint what was wrong with them and what plans they wanted to put in place."

Further information about local resources for people with dementia can be found at nidirect.gov.uk/dementia

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