Grandmother Fran Murt, 67 from Liverpool, recognised her own dementia symptoms four years ago after decades of working as a nurse.
Here, she shares her story with Metro.
I loved my nurses uniform – it was part of my identity and I always felt so proud to put on my smart navy dress because it represented all those years of hard work and dedication.
From the day I first ever wore my uniform as a trainee aged 17 with starched cuffs and a frilly hat to the last shift I ever worked – that sense of pride and achievement never left me.
Prior I had worked across different medical wards, including cardiology. I’d revived patients successfully before, so a refresher course in how to use a defibrillator was simply routine.
I watched my friends practice first, using a medical dummy on a hospital bed, and the electronic paddles that were such a familiar part of our job.
This was equipment I’d worked with all my life but as I picked up the defibrillator, I just couldn’t remember how to put it into sequence. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed and I was really upset.
My colleague said ‘Fran are you ok?’ and I said ‘No I don’t understand why I can’t do this.’
It wasn’t just the defibrillator. I went to take a patient’s blood pressure and I couldn’t remember which way the cuff went on. I couldn’t work the weighing scales either – and yet I had worked in the past on the bariatric clinic.
I went to see my manager and she said: ‘You’ve had a bad day,’ but as a nurse, I recognised my own symptoms. I’d worked with dementia patients before. I stopped work, went to the GP, and he did a memory test, which I failed.
I was referred to a mental health team who were lovely, and I went for scans before my diagnosis. If anything it was a relief. It explained why I had seemingly changed so much. I had always been so organised in the past, but recently I’d been leaving bills and letters unopened at home.
At the same time, it felt more terrifying because I’d nursed dementia patients before. I remembered one old lady who had thought she was catching a bus in the ward, and all I kept thinking was ‘I’ll end up like her.’
The thought of not being able to recognise my daughter or my sons or grandchildren really scared me. But I thought ‘I can either sit here or I can get up and make a new life for myself.’
I wanted to get my affairs in order and I also wanted to make memories for myself, to help trigger my brain.
So I spent several days clearing out my loft, giving the children some of their childhood things, and looking for a precious memory from my past – a doll which had been given to me when I was younger, by my beloved brother.
Chris died when he was 40, but I had always loved the 1960’s doll, and she was retrieved from the attic and given pride of place in my living room.
Everyone kept kept saying to me ‘you don’t look like you’ve got dementia’ – even a consultant said that to me – but my reply was ‘what type of look do I have to have?’.
Dementia just slows your life down in lots of ways. I remember saying to my husband Frank one day ‘I feel like I’m slightly broken and there’s nothing I can do to mend it.’ But I go to a group for early onset dementia once a month, and it’s so informative.
The ladies from Alzheimer’s Society give talks and tell us about the modern things we can get to help, like Alexa which holds all your memories. I saw a consultant psychiatrist who encouraged me to write a diary
Some days, I feel a real sadness, and on other days I can’t walk very far because my feet don’t seem to connect properly but I’ve had still had some terrific times.
I managed most of the Alzheimer’s Walk in Aintree recently, and I love going out to meet my friends. I used to cook and entertain a lot, but when I cooked a lemon cake for my son Adam one day, I forgot the eggs – and it came out half an inch thick.
People are so kind and I’ve seen the very best of that. I put my bag down in Primark in Liverpool and left it on the third floor, then couldn’t remember where it was. I told the staff I had dementia, and they radioed and told me not to worry – and they found it for me. I took them a box of chocolates.
Recently I went with Alzheimer’s Society to Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club. I’ve supported The Reds since I was a child. We went in the morning, had lunch and then went into the director’s box.
There, James Millner came and joined me – a former Liverpool legend. It was fantastic – that moment when the door opened and he walked in, I’ll treasure. I told him I love him!
I’ve had so much help from Alzheimer’s Society, and I’m so grateful with the support they also have given my adult children, who were all in their thirties when I was diagnosed. They could ring the society whenever they wanted, and they could talk to anyone to access information and support.
My dementia won’t get better – I know this – and I no longer have the job I love. But I’ve new friends, and this really is not the end of my life. Far from it.
The real faces of dementia
A couple in their 80s sitting in a tattoo parlour, having matching love hearts inked onto their arms.
The family who celebrate Christmas every day – with a freezer full of turkeys – because Dad thinks it’s 25 December. The little boy who tells his Mummy that Daddy is ‘broken’ – as she continues to raise him alone. The son who realises something is wrong when his father keeps ordering pork pies.
The motorbike lover who suddenly can’t turn the handlebars. The nurse who heartbreakingly diagnosis her own symptoms. The scientist who has devoted his life to helping them all.
Meet Ron and Sheila, Jules, Caroline and Mark, Grant, Anita, Fran and Tim. They are the real faces of Alzheimer’s and dementia – loving couples and families who know only too well that grief for an old life can make way for a new one you never planned. They know the love, the laughter, the compassion and the fear of facing Alzheimer’s and dementia – the UK’s biggest killer.
This week and next, Metro brings you the truly inspirational stories of how they have coped, how they have laughed as well as wept and how the Alzheimer’s Society has provided them and their loved ones with vital support.
Alzheimer’s and dementia: the facts
The most common forms of dementia (symptoms of a decline in brain function) are Alzheimer’s disease followed by vascular dementia.
Alzheimer’s is caused when plaques and tangles form in the brain making it increasingly hard for it to function properly. Early symptoms include forgetting recent events, struggling to remember words, becoming disorientated in familiar places and finding it difficult to concentrate.
Common early symptoms of vascular dementia include problems making decisions or following a series of steps, such as cooking a meal; slower speed of thought and trouble sleeping. The condition can also cause significant mood changes and depression and make people behave completely out of character.
Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer – and one in three babies born today will develop dementia in their lifetime. The risk of developing both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia roughly doubles every five years from the age of 65. Women and men are affected equally. Diabetes, obesity, heart problems and high blood pressure all increase the risk.
However, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing the diseases by leading a healthy lifestyle – not smoking or drinking to excess, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Keeping mentally and socially active is also beneficial.
The third most common form of dementia – accounting for an estimated 20 per cent of cases – is Lewy body. With this condition, tiny clumps of protein appear in the brain’s nerve cells, causing a range of issues including mood swings, problems processing thoughts, hallucinations, difficulty balancing and walking slowly. Although DLB (dementia with Lewy body) can affect people under 65, it is much more common as we age, affecting men and women equally.
There is currently no cure for any of the forms of dementia. But getting an early diagnosis is very important in allowing you and your loved ones to access all the medical and social support available. If you are worried that you have any of the symptoms, your GP will be able to refer you to a specialist who can carry out a range of tests.
If you are worried that yours or someone else’s symptoms may be dementia, download the Alzheimer’s Society symptoms checklist, on alzheimers.org.uk; for more information or support on anything you’ve read here, call our support line on 0333 150 3456 or visit our website.
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