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‘A great comfort to her’: Richard Madeley on dementia and his mother’s faith

This is Dementia Action Week, raising awareness of those affected by the disease. Richard Madeley told The Big Issue about his mother receiving dementia and lung cancer diagnoses in the same day

This Dementia Action Week, around 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK, and with an ageing population somebody is diagnosed every three minutes. But it doesn’t just affect the person with the condition, it can take a toll on those caring for a loved one.

Now well over a year into the pandemic, people with dementia and their families are still getting to grips with how lockdown impacted their wellbeing.

TV presenter Richard Madeley told The Big Issue about his mother’s dementia diagnosis and how she found comfort in her faith.

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My mother was diagnosed with dementia and lung cancer on the same day. Not, as she told me in a surprisingly relaxed phone call that evening, exactly the best 24 hours of her 80-odd years of life thus far.

Mum lived deep in rural Norfolk; her children – my sister and I – in Essex and North London respectively. We worked out a shift pattern of frequent visits between us, and as the months went by, additional local daily care for mum.

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Mum had Alzheimer’s, but unlike the galloping cancer, her dementia developed at a slower pace. She fully understood that the race between the two conditions to carry her over the finish line was not going to be won by the illness gnawing at her senses, and she was quietly glad about that.

“I’d like to die at least knowing who I am,” she told me over lunch one afternoon at a lovely seaside pub in nearby Southwold. “Can you understand that?”

Of course I could. And I also understood my mother’s need to be kept informed about the progress of her dementia. “Am I worse than last time you came?” she would ask. “How do I seem today?”

She enjoyed being reminded of past events and the characters that had filled her life, and my final conversation with her reflected that.

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The cancer had come to claim her, and mum was slipping in and out of consciousness. It wasn’t going to be long now. She was ready. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and her dry lips moved.

“What did my mother look like?” she whispered. “I can’t remember and it will be SO embarrassing when I meet her again if I don’t recognise her.”

I did my best to describe a woman I only knew from photographs – she died when I was a baby – and my mother nodded very slightly. “Ah yes… now I can see her. Thank you.”

A few minutes later, she was gone. All I can say is, I wish I had her unshakeable belief in such a literal afterlife; I’m so glad she had enough mental capacity left to remember her faith. It was a great comfort to her. And thus, to us. 

For more information this Dementia Action Week visit the Alzheimer’s Society website: alzheimers.org.uk/get-support. You can also access these Alzheimer’s Society documents: Carers: Looking after yourself factsheet, Communicating factsheet and the Carers Guide on their website.

To sign the petition to #CureTheCareSystem and support Dementia Action Week (17-23 May 2021) visit alzheimers.org.uk/DAW. And for information, advice and support call Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Connect support line (0333 150 345) or visit our website.

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