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  • 16th October 2018 | By David Jolley

    A burst upon us as an angry man – furious at what life has dealt him and his wife, who is three years into dementia while still physically able and in her early 60s. Furious too with doctors who are content to make a diagnosis and offer no ongoing support. Disenchanted with experts who offer courses which begin and end, and cost.

    B came early and joined in setting up for the afternoon. She smiled a lot and was pleased to engage with an older couple. Not quite sure why she was with us, nor about some of the topics, but this felt like good company for a couple of hours.

    C had been encouraged along by his caring wife. He had been reluctant last month so that she came alone. This time he was braver – ‘thinks he might be missing something’ – C also smiled a lot and took opportunity to say a few things.

    D knows about dementia by family experience and professional involvement. He is involved in church dementia-related activities and can share with us information that shows how far churches are indeed taking a more active and well-informed role.

    They were joining a group which has a core that has been here over two years. Here is welcome. Here is understanding. Here is somewhere that will last and live with reality.

    The fiercest exchanges, perhaps the strongest bonds, involve the halves of younger couples – seeking reason – inches from denial that this can really be – putting together a patchwork of caring, coping and cussing but refusing to give up on pleasures shared.

    There are no magic bullets, compliance with the best health promotion advice is no guarantee of avoiding dementia, training regimes can take you only so far – and the pattern of needs moves on, so that continuous rejigging is required. Care plans are what we make ourselves out of whatever strengths we come across.

    Cake, tea and catch-ups are the cement.

    Oh – and we quite like to know about natural remedies that old wives have told us about – and music.

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    8th October | By David Jolley

    We have glorious horse chestnut trees on our park. They are threatened by the canker which is affecting so many of this species worldwide https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/pest-and-disease-resources/bleeding-canker-of-horse-chestnut/ but for now they survive with dignity and deliver their precious crop of shiny conkers every autumn. Mums and dads and grandparents hunt amongst the fallen leaves alongside small people, searching for the free gold. There are stories after stories as memories of hunts over the years flood back to consciousness, beckoned by the feel and sound of the leaves and the scent of autumn all around. Good therapy for anyone, including those with weakened memory function.

    Amongst the chestnut combers we find an older lady studiously filling her cotton bag with conkers. Is she collecting these for grandchildren?

    No but for friends who have an aversion for spiders. She and many others have belief that conkers have magical powers to scare away the creepy blighters. An old wives’ tale – but might it be true? We have been disappointed to learn that experiments declare that slugs munch on lettuce impervious to the hazards of traditional ways to discourage them: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45652170

    But maybe conkers have magic powers to counter spiders. Probably not says the Woodland Trust – No evidence to support the myth. But I’d not be too dismissive. It is believed that conkers exude an aromatic substance ‘triterpenoid’ which is toxic to moths – so conkers are recommended as an alternative to moth balls. Extracts from conkers have been used to deal with sprains in horses – hence ‘horse chestnuts’. The anti-inflammatory ‘aescin’ is the chemical said to be responsible for this power. And ‘saponins’ from crushed conkers produce have soap-like properties and were used by the Vikings to keep clean.

    Well – this is conkers and we do not have a direct link to brain research – but the wonderful Elaine Perry and her daughter Nicolette have been creating a garden devoted to growing and researching plants with healing properties, especially for brain dysfuction. http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/features/16613493.healing-plants-to-soothe-the-brain/

    I am hopeful and optimistic that they will strike gold. In a way they have already.

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    2nd October 2018 | By David Jolley

    Skipping through the headlines and photographs in Friday’s paper I found that John Cunliffe died recently. I had not soaked up his name previously, but I knew Rosie and Jim and JC was the bearded gentleman who drove the canal boat they lived on. Even more, did I know, do I know, Postman Pat who was also a product of John’s imagination? The soft puppets and animated postie have filled many gentle hours with our children – and are there for our grandson. Lanre Bakare’s tribute to John Cunliffe tells us that he grew up as an outsider in a Lancashire town, where he was unhappy and bullied at school. It sets you thinking about how he might have been, or felt himself to be, an outsider. Perhaps the family moved into the town for work but were not from a line which had given generations in that place. Perhaps the family had unusual beliefs. But he had found his early life to be less that happy. Postman Pat came as a contrast to that and in celebration of good times in the Lake District – a world where every individual person and animal is appreciated for what and who they are. Everyday life is an adventure on a small scale. There may be worries and potential disaster, but mostly these are overcome with friendship and humour. Out of the adversity of childhood came something strong to support other children, and parents and grandparents.

    Another funeral closer to home saw the celebration of another Lancashire man – indeed a Manchester man. But it was only at the funeral that I learned that Ernest had grown up near the centre of Manchester. He and Hilda had arrived in our church community as fully grown retirees, moving into a modern house on a new estate. Ernest worse a neatly trimmed beard, long before the fashion for beards which has taken hold of currently fashionable men. His hair and beard remained dark brown. I wonder now whether he used dyes to achieve this. And the mystery of his background rested on stories of times on oil rigs and the Middle East. All true, it was proved at his eulogy. This life of adventure, glamour and success had happened from middle age because a heart attack which occurred at a time of great stress. Surviving this and returning to work, he deemed fit only for lighter duties. Lighter duties took him to training as a Health and Safety officer, something which suited his careful attention to detail to a tee. He gained experience and additional qualifications which made him a person to be headhunted by world famous companies.

    How wonderful it is to know more about the people we live with.

    We are very pleased with our park Health Walks, which are designed for older people and others who have lost confidence and practice in walking. As we walk, there is much talk – often of reminiscence – time for tea and a modest snack. Total therapy with not a great deal of pain.

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    24th September 2018 | By David Jolley

    Saturday morning is time to check what is about to happen in the world of football. My Wolves were to be playing Manchester United as they get to grips with life in the Premier League with a team that is better than any they have had since the 1950s. I almost missed the article by Damien Whitmore: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/21/damien-whitmore-i-would-find-mum-crying-and-repeating-i-dont-know-who-i-am

    It is an everyday story of life with dementia, by told by someone who is famous in his own right and is prepared to share some very personal stories and feelings with others. We have heard of the frustrations people have with the poverty of services for families with dementia on the Isle of Wight, but here such services are barely mentioned. The perception that mum, whose life had been very different from that of privilege which had brought Damien fame, self-fulfilment financial security, now needed care has brought a family back together and Damien to a changed appreciation of values. He found wonderful help given generously to his mum by neighbours and now to himself. He found excellent professional care from the private sector to complement his own efforts and those of friends and neighbours at home. He found appropriate attention toward her physical health from her GP. He describes mum’s progressive loss of communication skills, and the changes of perception that meant that he became seen as his father – with reliving and re-enactment of the pains of that relationship. We hear of his acknowledgement, in agreement with friends and neighbours, that the limits of care at home had been reached – and then a positive appreciation that life within a good care home provides a new beginning, and reflection that the advance of dementia sometimes brings out a person’s better side, rather than amplifying the worst.

    So interesting that the phenomenon of living just in the moment, which is identified as characteristic of life with advanced dementia, has passed to her son as carer who is cognitively whole. He is grateful for the benefits of this perspective for his personal health and social life, expressed with astonishing clarity which reminds me of the wonderful teachings of Barbara Poyson, derived from life with her husband Malcolm.

    ‘if you focus on what is happening to you in this moment and go with it, life begins to work for you.’

    For all of this, we are humbled and thankful.

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