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Becky’s story: "Caring for my grandad helped me through my own mental health"

Becky shares her story about how caring for her grandad has helped her with her mental health journey.

Becky and her grandad, Bernie

Becky and her grandad, Bernie

I’ve grown up in a family of six which includes me, my brother, mum, dad, grandad and grandma. My grandad’s name is Bob but we always call him Bernie because his second name is Bernard, and that stuck with us as a family. I take after my grandad as we’re straight-talking and that’s what made him so successful at the confectionery business he ran. 

We loved to go to shows. Whenever I was in a show in the Grand Theatre, he’d always come and see my dance shows and support me by buying a new pair of dance shoes. We had a good relationship.  

Two years into retirement, grandad was diagnosed with vascular dementia in his early 70s 

Noticing changes

I was living in France when the changes really started. Whilst my brother was graduating from college in America, we went over there and I hadn’t seen my grandad in a while by that point. The changes I saw were really stark; he was forgetting words like ‘vegetable’ and he would get lost when he was walking around.  

Around the same time, I was diagnosed with a mood disorder where everything felt like an extreme emotion – I was either up or down and there was no in between at all. It was a tough time as I didn’t feel as though I had a purpose, particularly when I was trying to start again career-wise as I wanted to do something that was more rewarding. Meanwhile my parents and my grandma were getting increasingly stressed at their caring responsibilities with grandad. It took quite a few months for them to come round to the idea of me looking after him as they didn’t want me to be put under pressure. 

Bernie and a furry friend

Bernie and a furry friend

Supporting my family to accept him and to accept myself

It was last year that I really started to get involved with grandad at 29. I’ve spent more time with him now than I ever did. 

It’s unbelievable how similar dementia is to my own challenges. He really senses it when he’s being talked to in a condescending way, in the same way that I do. 

There’s still so much stigma around dementia and that’s something that I acutely feel with my own mental health. I remember helping my grandad to cross the road and someone in the car was beeping and telling us to hurry up – this to me showed a complete lack of respect. I was quite adamant that the person doing that would just have to wait until we had crossed the road.  

It’s so tricky to know what’s truly going on in a person’s mind, but I take my grandad at face value, and I know he would do the same for me. I’m supporting my family to accept him and to accept myself; it’s so important to accept someone for who they are.

I’ve learnt so much about my own mental health this year that it allows me to care for my grandad better. I know that if I’m going through a tough time, other people may feed off on that and match my mood. It’s taught me to realise that what my grandad needs is that calming presence if ever he is going through his own changes.  

I notice when grandad is over-stimulated, and when he needs something. I know how to turn up his mood and energy. I’ve also learnt to have faith in what he is feeling, whether I understand it or not. Music definitely works to care for my grandad. I know the song that will get him dancing as well as the song which will make him think about different points of his life.  

Bernie with a Dementia UK balloon

Getting support

There are still tough moments, but there are resources you can turn to. I rang Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline one time for support and advice when he was starting to behave in a way which seemed aggressive. I was advised to make sure that I was safe at the time. This was really important advice for me as you do need to feel safe and ok as a carer to make sure you’re looking after someone in the best way you can.  

There’s always the need for more support. I would really like to see more carers groups for people of a similar age to me. To have other people who have gone through a similar thing as you, who can say that it’s completely normal to feel that way, or that you shouldn’t feel guilty, would be massively helpful. You’re allowed to be human and to be frustrated. 

Focusing on the positive

This caring relationship with grandad though has filled my heart to the brim; it’s helped me come out of my own struggles by focusing on the positive and precious moments we get, rather than the challenges of a particular situation or even condition. Now I have a purpose, I have the confidence to look at other avenues, such as becoming a Volunteer Ambassador at Dementia UK. This has made me focus on raising money to show my gratitude to a service which I’m perhaps going to require more of in the future.