Suzy McPhail tells us how caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s inspired her to start The Restore Lecture series.
A few years ago, I became my mum, Marguerite’s sole carer as she had developed vascular dementia.
Her onset was gradual and she managed well alone with daily contact with us for five years. However, when it became clear she no longer had the skills to be independent I gave up work to have her by my side every day for three years.
I know I was very lucky to have the opportunity to do so, it made the time far less stressful and far more enjoyable for us both and my family. She was not wandering so it was safe for her to remain in her little cottage, just down the road from us.
I guided her through every day, washing and dressing her, taking care of her health and wellbeing, making sure we had an outing somewhere lovely every day, cooking all her meals, (often she would eat with us), and safely tucking her into bed every night.
Over this time, I noticed that there weren’t many community organised activities available for people suffering with early to moderate dementia.
When my dear mum passed away, being an artist, I decided I would use my skills to take art classes on a weekly basis for those with dementia. I approached Dementia Waikato, (then called Alzheimers Waikato) and offered my services on a voluntary basis. It was warmly received and my classes started a month later, utilising their rooms.
It was so successful and the joy and enthusiasm with which the clients approached each project was obvious and also the pride they showed when they had completed them. Furthermore, it was heart-warming to note how delighted it made their families observing their loved ones achieving, learning new skills and socialising happily in a group sharing similar issues.
Knowing that music was also a creative avenue that ignited the senses, a year later I started music classes.
Eight years on I am still taking these classes and some clients have been with me all this time.
Other volunteers are now taking music classes too which means we can reach more people diagnosed with dementia to help give them another highlight in their week and for the classes to be added into their all-important routine.
Over this time however, I noted the strain it takes on a daily basis for carers to look after their partner/parent.
Even more so when they could no longer care for their loved one at home.
Suddenly they feel alone and unsure of how to move forward successfully whilst still cherishing their loved one in care. They grieve daily. Carers visit their partner/parent at least on a weekly basis, often daily, sometimes even twice a day.
How could I help these fabulous dementia heroes? How could I help to restore balance in their lives? My answer?
The “Restore” lecture series.
Having spoken to carers about their difficulties I have invited people from various professions who are happy to share their skills and knowledge with others to hopefully give them ways and means to live life with more energy, enthusiasm and peace of mind for themselves whilst still maintaining the love and commitment they have for their loved one suffering from dementia.
We have had the first two lectures, both speakers instilling positive and practical daily routines for the carers to support them going through this difficult situation in their life. There has been such a positive response for the series from the attendees, and also from those who feel the need for support and who cannot attend due to living in other areas of New Zealand.
I am hoping to share the lectures online and excited that this pool of great speakers will give carers more confidence in their future, enjoying better self-care.