‘Don’t struggle through Alzheimer’s like my gran did’

Kathleen Throup, Alzheimer's sufferer
Kathleen Throup, Alzheimer's sufferer
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Adele Doherty’s gran was a glamourous lady, a dedicated follower of fashion - but then Alzheimer’s struck Kathleen Throup.

“My gran loved her clothes, she was immaculate,” recalls Adele, a former Arnold schoolgirl, says: “I always remembered her being very glamourous.

“But then as Alzheimer’s took hold, she wouldn’t want to get dressed. She would wear her raincoat all day in the house with her nightie underneath. It was so hard watching her deteriorate.

“Alzheimer’s takes away your dignity.”

Kathleen Throup was married to Thomas Throup, the founder of Express Cleaners, for 49 years and lived at Peel Hill and later Garstang.

She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999 at the age of 80 after losing Thomas. She died in 2001.

Adele Doherty Regional Operations Manager for Northern Ireland for Alzheimer's Society

Adele Doherty Regional Operations Manager for Northern Ireland for Alzheimer's Society

But it is the years leading up to this diagnosis that has motivated her grand-daughter Adele to try to make a difference – on a global scale.

Adele, who grew up with her mum Anita (who ran a shop Potters Wheel on Coronation Street in Blackpool) and her family on Longton Road, now works for the Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading dementia charity which works to find a cure for dementia while supporting people with the disease and their families.

She has recently got over her nerves to give a televised talk on the condition – which affects 850,000 people in the UK – at Stormont in Northern Ireland, a talk which has been viewed thousands of times on YouTube.

Her gran is her inspiration to help others – with the guilt families feel one of the central cogs of her mission.

The internet can help us diagnose anything very quickly these days – but help wasn’t too obvious in the 1990s.

“We have a lot of funny stories about that time, but we also have a lot of sadness and lot of guilt,” says Adele, mum to Matthew, eight, Harry, five, and three-year-old Leo.

“Back in the mid ‘90s there was no internet and there were very few places to get information, and there was a lot that we didn’t know. We didn’t know that Alzheimer’s disease is just a form of dementia and that there are hundreds of types of dementia; we didn’t know that it is common.

“We didn’t know that grandma’s mind maybe felt a bit like a bookshelf, and her memories were being stored on those shelves.

“Her most recent memories were on the top shelf, and those furthest away were on the bottom shelf.

“When the bookshelf started to wobble, the books that fell off were those on the top shelf, her most recent memories and everything she could remember from when she was young and work were those on the bottom shelf.

“If we’d known that, we would have known how to gear conversations to help her.

“Grandma had symptoms of Alzheimer’s for at least 12 years before she was diagnosed, and as a family we had done nothing to help her because we just thought it was old age.

“Some of the things that she did and said throughout this time we put down to her being difficult and trying to cause trouble in the family.

“People thought she was just being awkward. She would repeat herself and put things away where they couldn’t be found.

“This is what we all bitterly regret and why I hope that through my work in a small way I can help another family not go through this. My mum and aunt live with a lot of guilt now about what they didn’t do or know. 

“Gran went for a memory test - she was able to answer the questions so it was very hard to get a diagnosis. Doctors are reluctant to give a diagnosis as there was little they could do about the condition.”

When the diagnosis finally came, Kathleen moved into a home and died in 2001.

After her grandmother’s death, Adele began fundraising for Alzheimer’s Society and three years ago she started work for the Society as Regional Operations Manager for Northern Ireland, a job she described as “a dream come true.”

Now she is urging others to learn from her family’s experience - and seek help as early as possible.

Adele, who now lives in County Tyrone, says: “Talk to your GP, call the Alzheimer’s Society and if you are online join Talking Point, our forum where you can talk to other people going through what you are going through.

“You aren’t alone, and you don’t have to struggle through this on your own.

“Don’t be proud – talk about it. Make plans as a family while the person is able to avoid conflict and guilt at a later stage.

“Every 10 minutes 240 people around the world would have developed dementia, yet there is still so much stigma and silence around it.”

Adele, whose aunt Sylvia Hall lives in Ansdell, admits she was extremely nervous about taking part in the televised talk – but the response was overwhelming.

“Since my talk went out people have told me they had never properly understood what their family member or friend was going through. I had people from Australia and Canada get in touch who had seen it on YouTube saying they found it really helpful.

“We all need to know the basics of dementia, just as we do cancer and diabetes. Dementia shouldn’t be anything different. We don’t need to be experts, just know a small bit,

“My mum and my aunt will probably always feel an element of guilt, but at least with this they know her death and their experience will help others. Grandma won’t have died in vain.”

Adele’s talk can be accessed through TEDx at http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Dementia-what-we-wish-we-d-know or on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlWsq85HaiU