My name is Gerard and I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 61. The diagnosis was a shock but receiving that diagnosis has helped me in so many ways.
Not only did my diagnosis help me understand why I was experiencing my symptoms, it also helped me to develop new strategies to help address some of the difficulties I was experiencing. Some strategies I use to help me live well and be happy include:
Sticking to a regular routine
One of the main priorities I have for myself is to stick to a regular weekly programme that ensures that I keep occupied. This helps me to establish a feeling of purpose, achievement, positivity and fitness. Music, hill walking, meeting friends and continuing to be involved with my sporting club are key aspects of my routine.
Support from friends and family
I have been very lucky to have amazing support from my wife, family and friends. I'm very lucky because they know how to nudge me in a friendly, inspiring and skilful way to do things.
I used to play for and manage a local football club and my friends there know I struggle now so they'll say, "Gerard, there's football this Sunday, let's get going!" And a friend who was best man at my wedding is coming to collect me this afternoon to go swimming - he’ll make sure I don’t lose my keys while I'm there!
Making the most of peer support through Dementia NI
Meeting Dementia NI members and staff has been a major bonus. Becoming a Dementia NI member following my diagnosis was an opportunity for me to speak to someone else who had also received that type of diagnosis and was already involved with the organisation. The friendship and support from others In The Same Boat has really helped me to feel that I am not alone.
In addition, the various discussions about dementia and how it is being addressed in society have been very helpful. Having the opportunity to share my opinion in some of the projects has also helped me to remember that I can still make a positive contribution to society and helps me feel as if I have a purpose in life again.
Looking after my physical and mental health
Another aspect of Dementia NI that I enjoy, in my weekly routine, is the yoga session. The yoga session involves lovely stretching, breathing and strengthening exercises that help me feel relaxed, flexible, better balanced and a wee bit stronger. In addition to the physical aspect of the yoga session I really enjoy the latter part of the session that focuses on meditation. I feel very relaxed and settled after this. Our teacher Ruth produces an excellent set of meditation stories each week.
Reminiscing over memories
Reminiscence and sharing happy memories is very helpful to me. My mum turned ninety recently and we had a family celebration so I sang a few karaoke songs for her - golden oldies like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. She said it reminded her of my dad. It was a lovely moment of connection and made me feel that life is still moving on. I'm still having happy times with my family.
Using digital tools
I have some forgetfulness and memory problems but I use tools to help me cope. When I wake up in the morning and think, "What am I doing today?" my tools help me stick to my programme of activities. My calendar on my phone tells me what I'm doing for that day or for the rest of the week. Then I might look at my diary and it encourages me to keep going. Sometimes I'll have six alarms going off on my phone in one day to remind me that I've got to go and visit my mum tomorrow or take my medication or go for a walk.
I'm not saying everything is perfect. We all have bad days and make mistakes and feel confused - but it's positivity that keeps you going. Some mornings I wake up and feel a bit down and I say to myself, "Gerard, you made a few mistakes yesterday, don't do anything today." But my programme says, 'Gerard, don’t listen to yourself - get up, be active and do things!" And I'm always glad when I do.
Thank you to Gerard for sharing his story.