‘The last six months of Mum’s life were the worst’

All of which, she says, makes what Alzheimer’s Society does so extraordinary. “They help you to see that the glass isn’t always half empty. I urge anyone who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s or caring for someone with it to get in touch with them because there is so much support available. They are working hard to demystify the illness and take away some of the stigma that is attached to it.”

One of the things Manville and her family struggled most with was finding a care home that understood the needs of those with Alzheimer’s. “She went to a wonderful one to begin with, it was perfectly lovely and gorgeous but they didn’t really know how to deal with Alzheimer’s patients and Mum’s sudden turns in behaviour. She could go from being very passive and sweet to being quite aggressive. There often simply wasn’t enough staff to look after everyone.”

There were little things as well. “They would do things like give my mother a cup of tea and fill it to the brim. But she was very shaky. She would also fall out of bed. They didn’t seem to have the right equipment.”

Manville shares a statistic from the charity, which says as many as 70 per cent of care home patients have Alzheimer’s. “Which makes the need for care homes that can deal with this disease so important.”

Jean died in 2010, aged 87 and surrounded by her daughters, but Manville thought often during the pandemic about how the enforced isolation of the past 18 months for those in care homes would have affected her: “If my mother had been in her home during the pandemic, with an illness that is about confusion anyway, it would have been really terrible.”

Particularly, she feels, had it happened early on in her diagnosis: “When she was still relatively ‘normal’, for want of a better word, and her bad episodes were less frequent. That would have been really painful.”

While Manville visited regularly from London, it fell to her siblings who lived in Brighton to be more day-to-day hands-on.

“I don’t know what my mother would have done without them. I got down as often as I could but it was nowhere as frequent as them. I was working away or on stage so it just wasn’t as easy for me to get down to her.”

Talking about the past became Jean’s focus, in particular her responsibilities as a child; cooking for her siblings and helping her mother.

“She talked about her time as a child. So we went with it. You realise very quickly there’s no point saying: ‘But your mother’s dead now…’ And what would it achieve? It makes you antagonistic and makes her frustrated because she thinks what she’s saying is not believed.”

Reflecting on the four years of her mother’s illness, she says it feels longer than it actually was. “The very last six months of her life were the worst, really. They weren’t pleasant for anybody, least of all my mother.”

Jean’s condition deteriorated rapidly, to the point where she stopped eating and became very thin. At the time, Manville had been told she would need to have her dog put down because of a brain tumour. “It was hard seeing the juxtaposition of my mother having to suffer while I was able to put my dog out of her misery. But we couldn’t do anything for my mother; we just had to watch her.”

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