A daughter has told of an unexpected and remarkable side-effect of her mother’s dementia – constant happiness.
Maureen Barnett, 65, was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2003 and at one point the disease and medication left her unable to speak.
But after she was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago her family said her personality totally changed and her ‘happy switch is now on all the time’.
The grandmother has always been friendly – but her family say the disease has left her constantly mellow and endlessly cheery.
Maureen Barnett (left) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago but unusually the disease, which affects the brain, had an unusual side effect – she is happy all the time
Daughter Michelle Pattenden, 39, from Bridgwater, Somerset, said: ‘Her happy switch is on all the time and she lives in a total state of mindfulness, appreciating everything.
‘It has a great effect on us all When I was growing up we had our fiery moments like all mums and daughters.
‘She’s tell me what to do, and I’d be a fiery teenager. Mum could have quite a temper on her and so could I – you know like normal.
‘She ran two business, she was an intelligent and career driven woman who knew her own mind.
‘Now she lives every day as it comes and in the same mood – she’s just happy.
‘She literally appreciates everything. It’s wonderful. She goes for a walk and she points out beautiful flowers or trees.
‘She absolutely appreciated everything – every single moment. It’s a state that we all try to achieve often can’t, but she can.’
Mother-of-two Mrs Barnett and her husband of 45 years Terry, 65, ran a cornershop and holiday business, before she started work in social services as a receptionist.
But around 15 years ago she started to become ‘over conscious’ about things at work and went for tests and scans.
Her daughter Michelle Pattenden said the disease has made her endlessly cheery and that she ‘appreciates every single moment’
Mrs Pattenden believes her mother’s attitude stems from her caring touch after a career in social services where she would often deal with familes
She was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2003 and went through a period of not talking at all and started forgetting memories.
But once she was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around three years ago – which can create false memories – she became more cheerful and mindful.
Although she experiences short-term memory loss and frequent bouts of ‘deja -vu’ she mainly feels happy and determined to help others, her daughter said.
While her family are constantly inspired by her positive outlook, it can make it difficult for her family members.
‘When her mum died in May she just had the same mood,’ said Mrs Pattenden, a hypnotherapist.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S AND CAN IT MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia
The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.
These symptoms occur when the brain is damaged by certain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
It commonly causes personality changes but often it results in low mood, making Mrs Barnett’s are rare.
SDr Emily Rogalski, from Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said symptoms and the kind of Alzheimer’s will depend on what part of the brain is affected.
‘That can be difficult for members of the family.
‘I’ve been through the tears, I’ve got angry, I’ve wanted her to tell me what to do as my mum – but I can’t do that any more.
‘We just have to enter her reality. She’s still a person; she still has valid thoughts and feelings.
‘We can’t reverse it, can’t change the fact she has dementia, so we just have to adapt with her.
‘When we let her talk, we see her confidence and sense of purpose grow.’
Mrs Pattenden believes her mother’s attitude stems from her caring touch after a career in social services, where she would often be the first face families saw when attending the office.
‘She loves to be helpful. The only way we can get her to agree to do things or go places now is to say, ‘it would be really helpful if you could do this, Mum’.’
She raises awareness about dementia through a Facebook page called ‘Minding Mo’ about the experience of looking after her mum.
The family – including Mrs Barnett – are also taking part Bristol Memory Walk in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society on October 9.
‘When I told Mum about Memory Walk, she only had one question, ”Will it help people?”
‘When I explained what the walk was about and what we hope to achieve, she said ”Then yes.”
Louise Walker, research communications officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘The unusual way in which vascular dementia has affected Mrs Barnett demonstrates the vast range of symptoms and experiences that people with dementia can have.
‘We know that one of the common symptoms of dementia is personality changes, but this doesn’t always mean for the negative.
‘Personality changes happen on a spectrum and everyone’s experience is different.
‘People with vascular dementia more commonly experience low mood and even depression, so symptoms like Maureen’s are rare.
‘There are studies taking place to look more closely at these unusual symptoms, but research has mostly focused on the more prominent negative changes.
‘There’s still much to learn in this area, so this is a really interesting story.’
For more details visit:www.justgiving.com/fundraising/MindingMo