Living in the shadow of dementia

Written for Quench student mag

Dementia is such a complex disorder and despite it not being labelled as a mental illness, the effects it has on mental health are undeniable. Whilst my dad’s disease has forced him into a never-ending bout of depression, it has dropped my entire family into a whirlpool of sleepless nights and constant worry.  Although many people are aware of dementia and its unquestionable negativity, you can’t honestly comprehend its effects until you live under its shadow and watch someone deteriorate daily. No two experiences are the same when it comes to dementia, its uniqueness and unpredictability means you cannot compare anyone’s journey.

“Despite these early signs, the official diagnosis ended up acting as a relentless and stubborn struggle for my parents”

 My personal experience with my father’s dementia can be pinpointed to begin the day he got made redundant from his job in 2013. The issues with his mind were persistent enough to affect his ability to work and stay focused, as well as competitive in a corporate environment. Despite these early signs, the official diagnosis ended up acting as a relentless and stubborn struggle for my parents.

There is so little known about the causes of early onset dementia and it is a lot less black and white than the different varieties seen in the elderly, so there were many forces acting against a diagnosis. In 2014 the consultants were pushing for a conclusion of depression due to its ability to cause memory loss in hardworking individuals. This must have been very serious depression for it to cause such significant memory loss… My dad was forced to stop driving and they took away his license due to the concerning behaviour he exhibited on the road. Surely this is a serious cause for concern in a man of 55?

In a correspondence between consultants my dad was described as a ’55-year-old gent’ with an ‘8 year history of cognitive decline’, later followed by a diagnosis of cognitive impairment with functional component. All these long, vague words forced my father into a diagnosis which gave nothing to go on, no springboard for help. The D word was vital to access resources and medication to help him. In 2018, the diagnosis finally came in – Dementia with neurodegenerative disease. Finally, the doors opened up for him and my family. Support groups were available and memory enhancing drugs were on offer. But this 10-year struggle and the reluctance to diagnose came with possibly irreversible consequences and a whole hoard of what ifs. What if he had access to medication earlier? Would the decline have been slower? Less aggressive? What if he had been able to receive better support earlier? Ultimately, pondering on these thoughts can only add to the pain and the healthiest thing to do is to put the 10 year struggle behind us, focus on the now and, most importantly, the future.

“How awful is it when you are forced to sit there idly whilst you watch your parent struggling to string together a sentence?”

The issue is, the present is bleak enough before adding the future into the equation. The whole coronavirus and lockdown debacle has sped up the neurodegenerative disease more than we could have predicted. The activities my dad had been participating in were all cancelled, and he was suddenly stuck at home 24/7. The lack of brain stimulation took its toll and wore down his mind, making it apparent early on that if he didn’t keep busy, the depression he faces would increase significantly and his energy would be drained. He started to sleep most of the day, complaining about the pain in his head and body, worsened by his inability to properly voice these pains.

It makes us all sad when he can’t get his words out. How awful is it when you are forced to sit there idly whilst you watch your parent struggling to string together a sentence? One of the things that has kept him going his whole life was his running. My mum always used to tell me that as soon as they went on holiday, he would be out mapping the route he was going to do later that day. Nothing could beat the high that running gave him. But now, the depression has sucked every bit of energy out of his body, including the energy in his legs that would have carried him over those roads. At the hands of dementia and depression he is unable to do one of the few things he absolutely loves.

Dementia can leave someone as a mere outline of their former selves. I will never know what my dad was like when he was well, but my mum does a good job of describing him. He is an amazingly kind person and the repercussions of his hard work means he is still looking after us now. The most important thing to remember when talking to someone with dementia is that they are still remarkable people and to remember all the achievements and things they did with their life. My dad’s name is Tony Nugara and it will never be forgotten.

My Mallorcan foodie experience

Adapted from my article for Quench student mag

After months of reminiscing of beach days and gorgeous holiday food, my opportunity finally came with a perfectly timed trip to Mallorca. Daydreams of paella and tapas would soon become a reality as I soak up the gorgeous Mallorcan sun whilst sipping on a glass of sangria. However, my family are really into their cooking, so I had not been short changed when it came to consistently stunning meals and this begged the question; do you really need to visit these places to be able to indulge in the foreign culinary experience? My mum’s paella is nothing short of mouth-watering and my brother’s ability to whip up a few tapas dishes is unrivalled. Will the Mallorcan food be worth the price tag? In light of this profound question, my holiday goal was swiftly hit with a reverse from relaxation, to work. I was forced to sample as much of the local cuisine as I possibly could… in the name of journalism.

It didn’t take me long to realise how good the food was in Port Andratx. I had been craving fresh fish and the plentiful supply did not disappoint. Delectable sea bass, turbot, scallops and mussels were in abundance and the taste was divine. After spending months in a land locked county, the island paradise proves the importance of the Mediterranean coastline when it comes to the pescatarian experience. I absolutely love fish so this was one point to Mallorca and nil to home cooking.

The tapas experience was equally exciting. Although I can create my own patatas bravas and locate a Padron pepper, it does not compare to the grandeur of a tapas metre filled with tiny bites of loveliness. Furthermore, the food combinations were unique and paid a compliment to the abilities of a truly talented Spanish chef. Perhaps I won’t be able to satisfy my pallet with my botch jobs anymore… On the other hand, although we had beautiful tapas in Port Andratx, a lesser, more disappointing experience was had at a more touristy hotspot in Palma. The quality of the food was incomparable and, after indulging in so many great meals, a real low point in my foodie journey. I was then faced with questions concerning the whole concept of eating abroad. Overall, I don’t believe one bad experience should taint the whole holiday or be grouped together with all the other amazing meals. The beautiful tapas metre we had was good enough to pardon the Palma tapas and I would be reluctant to give this point to home cooking. The moral of the story would simply be: read a few reviews before you rush into the closest restaurant.

 After three weeks of solid and thorough research, the most obvious benefit and win to the entire experience of eating abroad was, the atmosphere. The waves of fresh, salty air as it rolled in from the sea coupled with the vibrant bustle of a carefree town felt so unique after spending months isolated in my sleepy, landlocked town. The novelty of eating your lunch with an ice-cold beer whilst facing the sea would be difficult to turn down; the sound of the water splashing against the rocks and the gentle cry of seagulls whilst you eat is definitely a defining holiday moment.

Equally, if you’re a true sunbird like me, those reliable rays and the ability to consistently eat outside during all waking hours of the day is irreplaceable. Although it’s true that you can enjoy a nice seaside meal in England, the unreliable weather forces you to plan your meal inside, away from the views and relaxing ambiance. You may get lucky on the odd occasion and get the opportunity to eat al fresco, but this often comes paired with a thick jumper, a strong wind, or even a brief downpour. The ability to eat outside in the warmth allows you to immerse yourself with a whole hoard of sociable benefits. You can witness hundreds of happy, smiling faces as they make their way along the streets in preparation for their meal as you comfortably indulge in your own. The solidarity created between diners from several different restaurants all eating in the same square or along the same street is unbeatable, especially for those who love to people watch.

Equally, the benefits of such a multi-cultural destination become readily apparent in this environment as you listen to the waiting staff switch between languages as they accommodate different tables. This level of diversity and easy adjustment is completely absent in British dining and adds a whole new dimension to the restaurant experience. I love to feel connected to the world around me, so this factor really puts the icing on the cake for me. Another point for Mallorca.

 The question was; is it worth it? The answer? Absolutely. Yes, home cooking can be amazing, but when it comes to the whole experience, there are so many more factors to consider. The atmosphere and cultural benefits absolutely sold me, but the quality and freshness of the food was too good to compare. Will you catch me on the next plane back out there? Without a doubt!!