The mother of a Tipperary model emotionally shared her real life story of caring for a loved one with dementia at The Alzheimer Society of Ireland's (ASI) AlzTalks event.
Tipperary dementia advocate Catherine Kennedy, who is the mother of Miss Tipperary and Miss Ireland 2016 Niamh Kennedy, talked about when her husband Liam received his diagnosis of Younger Onset Familial Alzheimer’s in 2002 at the age of 42.
The ASI launched a number of touching real life stories of people with dementia and carers that were recently recorded at the celebratory AlzTalks event at the Cork Arts Theatre during World Alzheimer Month 2017.
The eclectic event looked to shatter the stigma and misconceptions that often surround dementia as people with dementia and carers spoke about their own personal experiences to a live audience.
Catherine recalled the struggles they faced because of Liam’s young age. “When you get a diagnosis like dementia, age shouldn’t come into it when you are looking to get supports. Because Liam was so young and was diagnosed with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s, there were literally no supports for him – no respite, no free GP, no nothing," she said.
A year after Liam’s diagnosis, he was admitted into full-time nursing care and the family had to adjust to their new reality. “I remember in the early days of visiting Liam I would take him for a walk every morning and then collect the children from primary school. They would go in and do their homework with Liam and sit and play with him in his room," she continued.
The Kennedy family -Catherine, Colm, Niamh and Liam.
The ASI supported Catherine during this time – especially the help she received from the National Alzheimer Helpline 1800 341 341 that put her in touch with her local support groups. Sadly, Liam passed away in 2011. Niamh has since become an official ambassador for the ASI in her Dad’s memory.
Catherine has very vivid memories of Liam talking about Niamh. “Our daughter Niamh was to receive her First Holy Communion in May, so we bought the dress and she modelled it for her daddy in the nursing home. I vividly remember one thing Liam said to me in care home just after Niamh had modelled her dress for him. Liam turned to me and said: ‘Do you know what? She will be a model someday.’ Little did we know that Niamh would go on to be crowned Miss Ireland in 2016," Catherine added.
Niamh spoke to The Nationalist earlier this year about losing her father Liam, who was a school teacher at Nenagh CBS, when she was 15 years old.
Niamh, who has since suffered from depression as a result of only comprehending the “severity” of what Liam went through after being diagnosed at 42 years old, recalled their fondest memories together.
“I was really close to my dad and it was very hard growing up without him as a teenager, particularly for my older brother Colm not having his dad around.
“We had fantastic times together. My dad was a great sailor and would bring us out sailing to Lough Derg every weekend. He was a brilliant carpenter too and would always make us little presents,” she affectionately remembered.