LAURA McMahon’s mother Brigid Christina (known as Chris) died on February 17 last year at the age of 86 after battling vascular dementia.

The 47-year-old from Glasgow’s West End says the family were fortunate they could afford private care in a specialised nursing home and says she takes some comfort that her mother always recognised she was "someone close".

MY mammy was the best mammy. Any time I think back to my childhood, she was there.

Not inside cooking and cleaning, but out in the sunshine with us, teaching us how to swim, picking brambles, and chatting to anyone who would listen.

She would brighten up your day. I remember her sitting beside my bed calming me down when I was particularly anxious until I got to sleep.

She would brass neck her way into events she wasn’t invited to and charm everyone. She never followed a recipe, was a terrible cook, an astounding jam maker and an amazing baker.

She would laugh until she cried, make a tea bag last over 10 cups and several hours and swim in Lough Foyle every month of the year. For years after leaving home I would talk to her regularly on the phone and she would always know what to say when I needed reassurance.

About ten years ago, my dad started to mention little things that were worrying him about mammy.

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She said that she couldn’t wind up our electric clock and found it hard to follow simple conversations on TV shows. This progressed to more problematic issues, like putting the electric kettle on the gas stove to heat the water, forgetting how to use the washing machine and not being able to find her way back home from her swim, 10 minutes’ walk away.

After several consultations, which initially didn’t find any issues (mammy was a great bluffer), a diagnosis of vascular dementia was finally confirmed.

Our cousin, who is a GP, recognized the signs and encouraged us to follow up until we had a clear diagnosis.

The first few years were very hard. We were all learning how to deal with repeated questions and mammy was getting frustrated at forgetting how to do things and losing her independence.

Looking back, she was probably very frightened, and for the first time in our lives she would be argumentative and sometimes rude.

This was not the mammy we remembered and it was a steep learning curve.

Even more difficult was Dad’s adjustment to being a carer. He had been brought up in a devout Catholic family to believe that life was supposed to be hard and that ‘in sickness and in health’ meant that he had to do it all.

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He did a fantastic job cooking, cleaning and supporting mammy at home but he found it so difficult to lose his bright, caring and sunny wife bit by bit and sank into depression.

His need to constantly correct mammy when she was wrong also led to clashes with me and my brother when we were visiting, but we also understood how exhausted and stressed out he was.

It was a horrible time, with Dad’s depression becoming so bad that we were afraid he would take his own life.

Thankfully, after some very frank conversations, he started a prescription of antidepressants, which improved the situation almost instantly. However, it was too much for him, already in his early 80s, and having to fly home when he was suddenly hospitalised in order to provide emergency care for mammy was a trip that I never wish to repeat.

Although we slowly managed to get care at home to help out, the situation finally got so bad that mammy was admitted into hospital with a severe infection and it was clear that she would need 24-hour nursing care from then on.

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We were lucky that my family had enough savings to privately pay for care in a specialized dementia nursing home.

Others aren’t so fortunate and I have heard heartbreaking stories from friends of poor care provision and long waiting times.

Mammy was very well looked after at the home and enjoyed the social interaction and opportunities to chat to everyone that passed.

The staff loved her and I often bumped into strangers visiting her because she was such delightful company, even if they didn’t know her.

We made her a memory book and she loved hearing the stories about our lives and looking at the pictures.

Dad visited every day and used to sing songs and pray with her. She never forgot songs and poems and could sing and recite better than I could.

The hardest thing for me was when my mammy no longer recognized me. I was grateful that she always knew I was someone close to her (sometimes calling me her big wee mammy!) but it wasn’t the same.

After three years in the nursing home, mammy stopped eating and drinking and ended up in hospital again with an infection but her body was exhausted and she was ready to go.

I thought I had done all my grieving over the years she had dementia but the physical pain when she died was intolerable.

Although she lost her memories and understanding, she had kept the twinkle in her eye and the ability to connect with those around her. My mammy was the best mammy and I miss her so much.

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