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In the January-March edition of Sanctuary Social Work News magazine, we hear from dementia campaigner, Beth Britton, as she discusses her experience of supporting her father who lived with vascular dementia.

“My dad lived with vascular dementia for 19 years. His dementia began when I was just 12 years old, and it dominated my teens and twenties. Having gone ten years without a diagnosis, dad spent the last nine years of his life in three different care homes, punctuated by spells in hospital, before he passed away in April 2012.

Many people question why it took ten years for my dad to be diagnosed. To answer this, it’s important to remember that back in the 1990s dementia wasn’t the public health priority it is now, and as a result levels of awareness were much lower. My dad’s vascular dementia manifested itself in a series of TIA’s (Transient Ischaemic Attacks – often called ‘mini strokes’), which although doing cumulative, irreparable damage to his brain, often went completely unnoticed by dad himself.

As those ten years passed, dad began to change. Although most people associate dementia with memory problems, and indeed dad’s memory did start to let him down, it was other, less widely-recognised symptoms that made his life more difficult. He struggled to support himself with personal care, with his motivation to wash, wear clean clothes or change the bed diminishing. He also became paranoid and had regular hallucinations, lost interest in the things he’d always enjoyed doing, would get lost going out, horded possessions and would put items in inappropriate places, and couldn’t manage elements of daily living, like cleaning the house, keeping the garden tidy or paying the bills.

As a family we were obviously concerned, but we trusted that dad was receiving the medical care that he needed through appointments with his GP that he chose to attend independently. At one point a referral was made to social services, but the input of a social work team, and indeed even the local meals on wheels services, was unwelcome and unnecessary from dad’s perspective. Eventually dad collapsed at home from a larger stroke. He was taken to hospital and, as he was rehabilitated from the stroke, he was formally diagnosed with vascular dementia and moved to the ‘Elderly Mentally Infirm’ unit. The team caring for dad advised us that he would be a danger to himself and others if he returned home, and so we were assigned a social worker and tasked with finding dad a residential care home.”

To read more about the challenges Beth experienced in moving into social care and the outstanding end-of-life care her dad received, you can read the remainder of the article and other inspiring features in the online version of Sanctuary Social Work News.
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