Dolores was the most beloved and glamorous aunt. She was a terrific water colour artist – she would sell the paintings which she could paint better than her teacher. Her painting would take her to Holland with her art groups and she painted boats whilst based in Bristol.
I was her surrogate daughter and she came to live near me in Kent when she was 70 in about 2004; this was after her second husband died.
In about 2017 we began to notice that my aunt was becoming more forgetful. She wouldn’t recognise herself after she had done her hair and she was constantly losing the house keys. Concern for her safety increased when I’d get phone calls from neighbours saying that Dolores was outside; she was telling everyone she was waiting to go shopping with her family – there were no shopping trips planned.
Dolores enjoying a trip to the café
She was still my aunt and I would be there for her. I quickly saw dementia as the likely cause for her behaviour changes.
Contacting the Helpline
I remember finding the number for the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline from some flyers I was sent shortly after her visit to the doctor who confirmed her diagnosis, but it took a long time for me to call them. I thought doing so would make me feel inadequate. In reality, I wish I had phoned sooner.
Julie and Dolores with their family during Christmas 2019
I was finally prompted to make contact with the Helpline after my aunt was referred by the GP for a brain scan. I knew that this would be a huge effort for my aunt, and she would be confused. I asked the nurse what the point was of having a diagnosis when it was so clear to me it was dementia.
In such a kind, understanding and compassionate way, the Admiral Nurse explained that a diagnosis would give my aunt better access to local services, to help her stay at home longer; this included someone from the council making improvements to the bathroom. The Admiral Nurse also told me that I could speak to the GP to get diazepam, in order to calm her. Without this advice, I would have felt more pressured.
In June 2019, at the age of 85, she was diagnosed with mixed dementia (vascular and Alzheimer’s).
Admiral Nurse support
Remembering the compassion of the nurse from my first call, it encouraged me to ring again, right in the middle of the pandemic when I was out shopping. A store worker said I couldn’t take two packs of toilet rolls, but I said it was for my aunt. Their response: ‘Well, she should be here!’ The Admiral Nurses advised that I should take a letter of her diagnosis round with me pointing to the fact that I’m a carer. They gave me guidance when everything was too overwhelming.
The final contact with the Helpline was when Dolores had a water infection. The Admiral Nurses knew who I should contact to expedite my aunt’s care: in this case, it was the GP. With all the pressure facing services due to Covid-19, I wouldn’t have thought to contact my GP, but the Admiral Nurses gave me the confidence to do that. I truly believe that call made me see that my aunt was at end of life; I arranged carers and delivery of a hospital bed in her home soon after.
My aunt died on October 10th 2020 in her home, which is what she wanted. The support from the Helpline was vital in allowing this to happen, and making us live confidently throughout the stages of her condition.
Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline
Anyone with a question or concern about dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) can call our Dementia Helpline for free on 0800 888 6678 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org