Irene’s Inspiring Story: Living With Dementia

93 year-old Irene, lives at Queen Elizabeth Court, a McCarthy Stone retirement village in Cumbria. She’s a Manchester girl who spent time working as a teacher in London’s East End. Despite living with dementia, inspirational Irene, is living life to the full and enjoying every moment. Her story is told with the help of her lovely carer, Ann, who does lots of fun things with her every week. It was written for a dementia group writing competition – by Ann, with Irene’s input and approval. It came 4th but we think it’s a winner!  

On Wednesdays and Fridays, Irene and I go gallivanting 

[Irene is pictured in pink with Ann who wrote these words with Irene’s input – Irene always wears pink ‘to make the boy’s wink’!]
“Gallivanting is one of Irene’s favourite words, although we have to admit neither of us knew exactly what it meant. Irene thought it might be a bit naughty. So we looked it up on my phone. It means ‘to go about from one place to another in pursuit of entertainment or pleasure’. Well that certainly describes us. 

Looking things up on my phone is one of the things we do a lot. In the last week or two we’ve looked up the words to the bits of Good King Wenceslas that we couldn’t remember- Then we sang the whole thing loudly and no doubt out of tune and ended up in fits of giggles. We’ve looked up and listened to Paul Robeson and Frank Sinatra on YouTube. We’ve found pictures of where her daughter lives in Wales and visited a virtual exhibition of a famous artist who just happened to be her son-in-law. I suppose that’s another type of gallivanting – roaming around the World Wide Web in search of entertaining things.

Doublecheckitis and Forgettietti 

We have some games we play before we go out gallivanting. The first of these is Find the Marbles. Irene tells me frequently that she’s lost her marbles, so before we go anywhere, we do a quick marble hunt, generally find the missing ones in the depths of Irene’s pink coat pocket. Then there’s Doublecheckitis, played as the door closes and Irene and I double check her keys are in the right pocket of her little handbag. We play these games to overcome the Forgettietti: Irene may not remember everything she wants to, but she is a genius at seeing the fun in a situation and coming up with just the right words to describe it. 

Our gallivanting gives us a chance to find pleasure in everyday things. Irene is a brilliant observer and notices details in the landscape, trees, flowers and buildings. She is drawn to colour and texture and sound. We walk by rivers and listen to the flow of the water. We look for enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of bell bottoms. Cumbria being Cumbria, Irene reckons on most days the sailor will be climbing the rigging in his underpants. We delight in the white snowdrops, the yellow of the crocus and daffodil patches and no doubt we will enjoy the bluebells with the same enthusiasm when the time is right. With her pink coat, her purple scarf and her beaming smile she adds colour to a grey day. 

Bringing joy every day  

Irene has a knack of making people happy for a brief moment. Today we went to the pub to think about writing a poem. Irene told the girl behind the bar that she had a beautiful figure. And made her day, because the girl had a baby a while ago and is struggling to come to terms with her new shape. Irene apologised to the lad behind the bar for occupying his armchairs for way too long, considering we’d only bought two tonic waters, and hoped he understood that we were writing a masterpiece for publication. She promised him she’d put him in the acknowledgements if it turned into a best seller. That made him smile too. She thought of every word she could that rhymed with pink. Each one generated a new idea or an old memory. She managed to turn them all into a slightly risqué limerick. That made us both laugh. 

Magic moments 

Irene can do magic. We know this because when she holds the black tab on her keys in just the right place, the front door to her apartment block opens by magic. She also has a magic fridge that fills itself up when she isn’t looking. It even knows what she likes to eat. The magic fridge makes every meal a voyage of discovery. More gallivanting I suppose. Gallivanting around the restaurants of the world, via ready meals and the odd bottle of something a little bit naughty. 

Irene knows she’s lucky. She has people who love her and, in her words, ‘sort her out.’ She knows she can’t remember things, and do all the things she used to do (“Shall I drive you home? No, probably better not!”) but she can still spread her magic. And when you can’t remember where you went yesterday, every day brings novelty and things to get excited about. 

Irene and I recommend gallivanting. But I’m not convinced by her suggestion we go on the razzle. At 93, that might be a step too far.” 

This case study on dementia shows that life can still be lived to the full 

As this dementia case study illustrates, if you combine a safe, secure, and well-designed home with reliable, adaptable and sensitive support, people living with dementia can lead independent and fulfilling lives. 

McCarthy Stone is committed to being a dementia-friendly organisation. Our developments and range of services give us a real opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives. We want to see people with dementia being able to live longer in their own homes when it is in their interests to do so.