5 MIN READ
‘Music is a huge part of my dad’s life,’ says Keith.
He’d be lost without it.
He spends the day singing along to the radio.
My mam plays the squeezebox, daily, and he will give her a song in return.
If I’m there we might have a song together.’
Keith’s dad, Jim Madden also used to play the banjo, the mandolin, and the guitar. He was self-taught.
But in his 50s, he got a condition called Dupuytren’s contracture* which caused his fingers to bend in towards the palm of his hand.
After that, he couldn’t play anymore.
Diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s
Jim worked as an accountant for the ESB for 40 years then retired at 58.
‘He always used to say that his lifetime ambition was to retire, but when retirement came he didn’t really do anything,’ Keith says.
His group of friends were based around music and pub life.
‘There’s only so much of that you can do,’ Keith says, ‘before you have to stop.’
Slowly Jim became isolated from friends. He had been a keen gardener but lost interest in gardening.
After a couple of years, Keith and his family started to notice that something was wrong.
Then, in 2012, he was diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, ‘a double whammy,’ says Keith.
Looking back there were early signs* that he might have Alzheimer’s and not just normal age-related memory loss.
‘He’s really bad now. He doesn’t know who I am until I tell him.’
‘I put a banjo in his hand about a year ago, and he just looked lost with it.’
Understanding his father as a man
Keith says that he always had a great relationship with his dad and is close to him.
In particular, he made a big effort to get to know Jim as a man not just as a father when Keith was in his twenties.
‘I would have met him regularly for a pint, even though I don’t drink, a couple times a week so I always had an understanding of him as the man he is,’ he says.
When Jim became ill, Keith decided that he wanted to do something with him before his condition got worse.
So he moved back home, in 2012, when he was 38, to be there with his dad and his mam, Anne.
‘We would spend evenings together, and I would help them around the house,’ Keith says.
Preserving his father’s sense of identity
As he deteriorated, Jim needed a little bit more help including help getting dressed.
‘My dad is the best dressed man in Ireland,’ Keith says. ‘He’s always had a great sense of style.’
It was important to Keith and the family that he kept that sense of style which is integral to his identity.
‘Because, without the self, there’s nothing there,’ Keith says.
When his dad began to struggle in the mornings and Anne had to help him shower and dress, Keith applied for flexible working hours at Bank of Ireland.
For Keith that meant he could work and also help out at home.
‘A couple mornings a week, I would help him get dressed, and then we would have breakfast together.
He would call me his batman, a batman being a soldier or airman assigned to an officer as a personal servant!’
‘If you were to meet him out, he would have looked fine and would have come across fine,’ Keith says.
But his motor and organisational skills were starting to slip away from him.
Despite this, he was still able to complete the Irish Times crossword.
‘A great man for books and words, Dad used to set the crossword for the ESB staff and when we were kids he used to make up a junior crossword for us,’ Keith says.
‘He would use a template from the Irish Times and put in some easier clues for us kids.’
Keith remembers that Jim would come home with a crossword for them ‘once or twice a week’.
This gave Keith a love for crosswords and words in general.
‘One of my dad’s favourite chats is when we are discussing words or etymology – he gave me the Greek alphabet the other day, from start to finish’
So, when Keith moved onto flexible working hours, he often sat with his dad, after breakfast, and they did the Irish Times’ crossword together.
‘Dad would always get the clues, often surprising me with answers where I was struggling,’ Keith says.
He got so much out of it, it was so good for his confidence’
Taking carer’s leave
After that, and while his dad was still relatively well, Keith decided that he would like to take carer’s leave for six months.
‘I wanted to spend time with him before he got to the point where he didn’t really know who I was.’
Keith admits that it was good for him, too, to have the opportunity to care for his dad.
‘I was getting an awful lot from it too,’ he says. ‘It certainly wasn’t just an act of altruism because what I got out of it was priceless.’
‘When you’re on carer’s leave, you can also work a maximum of 15 hours a week,’ Keith says. ‘Bank of Ireland let me stay in my role and work my hours in it.’
Between his income and the carer’s allowance, Keith says he could ‘still have a life and while living at home.’
Forgetting about yourself
When you’re caring for somebody you love with Alzheimer’s you can become so focused on them that you forget about yourself and your own needs.
It can be quite a shock to switch back from the role of carer and into your career again when you return from leave.
Keith had kept up his connection to work by working reduced hours but realised that he had to kick-start his career when he came back.
At the moment, Anne is at home looking after Jim.
They have been together since their teens and will have been married for 50 years, next year.
‘My mum is such an amazing woman,’ Keith says, ‘looking after her husband 24 hours a day.
She’s remarkable. She has this joy and love for life.
My Mam is very spiritual and is a qualified bio-energy healer with an endless love for my dad.
Every day, she is having the best day, no matter what happens.’
Jim has a HSE carer coming to the house for 8 to 10 hours a week now and that means that Anne can get out and have a break from her caring duties.
Although, Keith has moved back out of the family home he’s still helping out and supporting as are the rest of the family.
Hiding behind the role of carer
Keith’s life changed dramatically when he finished carers’ leave.
He met his wife, Laura, while still on leave.
Laura helped Keith put the focus back on himself and his life which he had put on hold while caring for his dad.
‘Everyone always patted me on the back for what I was doing at home with my dad,’ he says. ‘They always thought it was a great thing.
But Laura wanted to know what Keith was going to do when his carer’s leave finished.
‘She said to me, ‘what about you?’
This helped Keith focus on himself and he went back to college completing a course in desktop publishing in 2018.
More carers are women than men
In 2016, there were 118,151 women carers (60.5%) in Ireland compared to 77,112 male carers according to the Central Statistics Office*.
In the UK, an Office for National Statistics reports states that twice as many women* as men are likely to be informal carers in their 50s and 60s but there are still many carers who are men.
‘When you’re receiving praise all the time, you can get really wrapped up in it and forget about your own needs’ Keith says.
‘Now I’m making a big effort to upskill, to get my own life back, while also giving as much as I can at home to my dad.’
Singing with a dementia choir
In the last year, Jim has sung with a dementia choir, the Forget-Me-Nots, at the National Concert Hall and he was going to be singing at the Olympia theatre with Brendan Grace before Brendan passed away.
‘He sings with them once a week,’ Keith says.
It may sound surprising but even though he struggles to find his way around his own home, Jim can sing ‘Raglan Road’ from start to finish.
‘He also can remember new songs, which is strange because they’re not old memories,’ Keith says.
Music seems to have a special place in the mind.
Neuroscientists at University College London report that Alzheimer’s patients who are unable to recognise their loved ones who nevertheless can learn new songs*.
‘Anything that comes on the radio,’ Keith says, ‘he knows some of the lyrics.
He was singing an Ed Sheeran song recently, which was produced after the dementia had set in!’
Positive Ageing Week
Bank of Ireland has partnered with Age Action for Positive Ageing Week 2019* which runs from Monday 30 September to Sunday 6 October.
This year’s theme is ‘Ageing in Place’ which promotes ‘the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level’.
To find out more about some of the options and supports available to facilitate ‘Ageing in Place’, join us at talks and events taking place near you.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has tips here* for carer’s looking after someone with Alzheimer’s.
*Clicking on this link brings you to a third-party website. Bank of Ireland is not responsible for content on this website.