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Dementia sufferer’s Christmas fear: will I even recognise my children next year?

Thousands of families suffering, warns Alzheimer’s Society as it launches festive appeal

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Stressful time: Barney Thompson and his wife Catherine

Stressful time: Barney Thompson and his wife Catherine

Stressful time: Barney Thompson and his wife Catherine

The wife of a man living with dementia has described the loss experienced by the couple as they missed spending Christmas with their children last year due to Covid-19.

As Barney Thompson faced the holiday period without spending time with his children, he was tortured by the possibility he may not recognise them the following year.

His wife Catherine described the heartbreaking reality for thousands of families affected by dementia across Northern Ireland to coincide with the launch of the Alzheimer’s Society Christmas appeal.

The charity has revealed that last year, 16% of people with dementia spent Christmas Day alone, while almost a third said a 15-minute visit from family, a neighbour, or paid carer was the only social contact they had over Christmas Day.

Barney (67) who lives in Toomebridge with Catherine, was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia when he was 64 years old.

The couple’s daughter Amy, who works as a doctor in London Free Hospital, was due to visit last Christmas, but her trip was cancelled at the last minute due to government regulations.

The lockdowns were very stressful for the couple, as former traffic policeman Barney was shielding because he has diabetes.

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And the isolation from his daughters Amy and Sophie, a stage manager who lives in Northern Ireland, led to a deterioration in Barney’s health.

“We are both very aware we’re not getting that time back,” said Catherine.

“We’ve lost that now. We were supposed to go on holiday after our youngest daughter graduated, but that time has passed.

“Amy was due to come home for Christmas and then Boris Johnson called that off at the 11th hour. It was awful for all of us, but Barney was devastated. He asked me, ‘Will I remember them next Christmas?’”

At the beginning of the first lockdown, Barney felt his cognitive abilities were beginning to slip and he took the difficult decision to stop driving,

He said: “It’s led to even more isolation. I can’t just get in the car and go to a place and meet people I know. It’s cut me off from everything. I don’t have the freedom to just do something.”

The pandemic has also meant Barney has missed his usual face-to-face groups and meetings with Alzheimer’s Society, as well as his volunteer work as a public speaker for the charity, which boosted his self-esteem.

According to an Alzheimer’s Society survey, Barney and Catherine’s experience was by no means unique — nearly half of respondents only had visitors to drop off Christmas dinner and presents.

A decline in condition means almost a third find it more difficult to eat this year and a quarter of family members are coping with increased caring responsibilities.

A third are worried they will be left exhausted and won’t get enough respite, which comes after family carers in Northern Ireland spent around 2.3m extra hours caring for loved ones with dementia during the first lockdown.

Bernadine McCrory, the Alzheimer’s Society Northern Ireland director, said: “For many this festive season, the magic of Christmas will be marred by families having to cope with an unmanageable and irreversible decline in their loved ones. 

“People with dementia need us like never before. With your generous donations, we can make sure no-one must face Christmas alone and without adequate support.”


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