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Signs and symptoms of dementia: Aussie’s quest for healthy life ends in ‘strange and cruel disease’

As 65-year-old Josie swings open the door of her daughter Jade’s car, she squeals in excitement.

“Jade, I didn’t know you had a baby! I must have known and forgotten,” Josie says.

WATCH IN THE VIDEO ABOVE: How Aussie grandmother can’t remember her grandchildren.

For more Lifestyle related news and videos check out Lifestyle >>

“Yeah, that’s okay,” Jade replies with a smile.

Three years ago, Jade’s relationship with her mother changed dramatically – after Josie was diagnosed with a form of dementia.

“It’s like real-life Groundhog Day,” Jade tells 7Life.

“That’s what makes dementia such a strange and cruel disease.”

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Josie is just one of the nearly half a million Australians currently living with dementia.

For this UK-born Perth grandmother, her diagnosis ironically began with her quest for a healthier life.

“Mum wanted to improve her quality of life, but it ended up doing the exact opposite,” Jade says.

In 2020, Josie, then 62, wanted to lose some unwanted weight and opted to undergo gastric sleeve surgery.

But in the months after her operation – in which part of the stomach is removed – Josie rapidly lost 50kg and was unable to keep any food down.

Jade (centre) is raising awareness for dementia by sharing her mother (left) Josie’s story. Credit: Jade Mead

Josie later shared with her daughter that the only thing she was able to comfortably ingest was alcohol – and she began to rely on the substance.

“We didn’t know at first,” Jade says, adding that she “thought it was just complications from the surgery”.

“She was looking really frail and wasn’t turning up to the kids’ parties and things like that.”

Jade, along with her sister Hayley, had enjoyed a close relationship with her mum.

But life became busy, and a few weeks went by when neither sister had heard from her.

So Jade went to visit.

The moment she laid eyes on her mum, her heart pounded – Josie looked frail, her hair was thin and she was hallucinating.

Josie with her two grandchildren Marli, three, and Lottie, three months) Credit: Jade Mead/Supplied

“I didn’t recognise her,” Jade admits.

“She wasn’t making sense. She thought she was in the UK and that she was talking to her sisters, who are from Ireland.”

Jade immediately knew something was wrong, and drove Josie to hospital.

“I ended up crying to the triage nurse. I just wanted to know what was wrong with my mum,” Jade confesses.

Josie ended up spending a total of three months in the ward.

The diagnosis

There she was diagnosed with alcohol-related dementia, a form of dementia caused by prolonged consumption of alcohol, which is said to prompt impaired cognitive function.

Doctors have suggested the part of Josie’s brain which controls memory has been irreversibly damaged.

Dementia Australia says the cause of alcohol-related dementia is still being researched but “nutritional problems, which often accompany consistent or episodic heavy use of alcohol, are thought to be contributing factors”.

Under the care of the hospital, Josie slowly regained her ability to consume food.

“Physically, Mum looked great,” Jade says.

“Her hair had grown back, she is now at a healthy weight, she has no hallucinations … she is physically well.

“She still has her long-term memory – she remembers my childhood, but just not my kids.

“It’s really sad because she has always had a really good memory but anything that has happened recently, anything day-to-day, she can’t remember.”

Josie recalls Jade and Jade’s husband Ryan, for example. But their two children – Marli, three, and Lottie, three months, have to be reintroduced each and every time they see Nanny.

Jade is using her social media presence to raise awareness for dementia. Credit: Jade Mead/Supplied

“We have started to tell Marli that Nanny still loves her very much, but she just forgets things,” Jade explains.

Jade reveals that each time she visits her Mum, and Josie spots Marli and Lottie, her face lights up.

“You can see how much she loves them,” Jade says.

Jade’s sister Hayley has three children. Josie remembers Hayley’s two eldest – Ella, 13, and Cody, 11 – but she can’t recall the latest addition, three-year-old Maci.

“You have to have a lot of patience,” Jade concedes.

“Each time we see her, we have to repeat ourselves, which can be very draining.

“But I just remind myself that it is not their fault and we are very lucky I still get to spend this time with her.”

The family works hard to gently explain Josie’s forgetfulness each time they see her, and the 65-year-old understands that her memory isn’t what it used to be.

“Mum has a laugh and says things like, ‘Oh why did I forget that?’ or ‘I’m a mad woman, I’ve forgotten haven’t I?’,” Jade says.

Face of dementia

Jade, a successful fitness coach, has started using her large social media presence to highlight what dementia looks like.

Sharing the importance of both physical and mental health, the mum of two films small interactions with her mum, titling the video series The Dementia Diaries.

In one video, Marli is seen running across the room to give her Nanny a big hug.

Josie is seen with an ear-to-ear grin before turning to Jade.

“I didn’t know you had children,” she announced.

“Yeah, you did, but you might have forgotten,” Jade replies.

Jade describes dementia as “an awful, cruel disease”.

But she says she tries her best to focus on the positives, “and interactions like this with my beautiful Mum, seeing how excited she is every time she sees us, are so special.”

Video after video show Josie’s smile as she, in her eyes, meets her grandchildren for the first time – over and over again.

Her beaming smile warms the room.

And, for Jade, this is the mother she will always remember.

If you are concerned about yours or a loved one’s use of alcohol or other drugs, call for free, confidential advice, information and counselling from the National Alcohol and Other Drug hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 250 015.

If you or someone you know is living with dementia, call for free, advice, support and guidance from The National Dementia Helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 100 500

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