Living positively with dementia

Care caterers at the NACC’s north region seminar gained vital knowledge of how it feels to live with dementia.

Bestselling writer Wendy Mitchell, who has the condition, spoke to over 100 delegates at the National Association of Care Catering event in Doncaster. They gathered to learn more about advances in dementia care and mealtimes. Wendy was aged 58 and working full-time in the NHS at St James Hospital in Leeds, when she was diagnosed with young-onset dementia in 2014.

The description of ‘dementia’ had bizarrely come as a relief to her – the end to uncertainties. Wendy had previously thought that she had a brain tumour.

Since her diagnosis, the mother of two describes herself as having “been taken over by a gregarious alien” – one that is on a mission to get people talking about dementia and reduce the stigma surrounding it.

“Every day is a different day,” says Wendy. On a bad day with dementia, a fog descends on her brain and she can make little sense of the world around her. On those days, she wonders, “What day is it?” and “What am I supposed to be doing?”

She describes dementia as a string of fairy lights in the brain, each light having a different function. In people with dementia, these lights flicker on  and off in a different way for each individual. When a light fails completely, that function of the brain just stops and is lost.

Wendy’s own loss is the ability to cook and to feel hunger – saddening because, in her words, we show our love through food. She can no longer coordinate things when cooking, and therefore ends up burning everything. Eating out is stressful too, and Wendy hates to be given options. “I will remember either the first or last option that the server said, and will pick that.”

Wendy Mitchell’s bestselling memoir, Somebody I Used to Know is out now (Bloomsbury, £8.99) and you can also read her blog, ‘Which me am I today?’ at whichmeamitoday.wordpress.com/