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Growing up I was lucky enough to have the privilege of having a great grandmother who we called Nana Penny (Penny being her last name). Ever since I can remember my Great Nana always had struggles with memory and forgetfulness, it was not until I was older until I understood that the reason for this was because she had vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As a child, I can recall many instances where I remember my Nana Penny doing things I thought at the time were quite funny. For example, sometimes she would try and give myself and my sister a $10 note each, which we were very pleased and excited with at the age of 7 and 9, but 10 minutes later she would offer us another $10 note because she had forgotten that she had already given us the first one (which of course we never took!)

Something like dementia can be hard to understand as a child, but as I grew older I noticed more and more changes with my Great Nana, with her sometimes asking me to repeat what I study at university multiple times in one visit due to her memory loss.

This became hard for me. I felt like I was watching someone who has always been such a huge part of my life slowly drift away and become less and less themselves. Towards the end of 2017 my Nana Penny suffered from a stroke and afterwards her dementia and Alzheimers rapidly became worse, with her not being able to  talk or communicate very well.

All she was able to do was sit and stare, and rarely say a few words. You would sometimes you would get the odd smile or hand hold which would mean the absolute world, to know that somewhere deep down she still knew who I was and felt so loved towards the end of her dementia journey.

My Great Nana Penny passed away peacefully towards the end of January of this year at the age of 94. This was very emotional and sad time but also made us as a family reflect on all the lovely memories we had with her and the moments we will treasure forever and never forget.

This is a photo of myself and my Great Nana Penny looking through some old photos of family and friends. As you can see there are a few gin and tonics present, they were her favourite.

Cherish your loved ones who are living with dementia, as even though you may find it hard to watch someone you love change, it is so important not only for them but for yourself to show them love and support and that you are always there with them on their dementia journey.

At 20 years old I would never have thought that dementia would affect my life, but I’ve learnt that it’s not only people who are living with dementia that are affected, but also families, friends and loved ones.

Right now, 4 out of 5 people in New Zealand are affected in some way by dementia. Almost 60,000 Kiwis are living with dementia, and those numbers are predicted to grow. By the year 2050, there will be an estimated 150,000 people living with dementia.

I know that my Great Nana Penny would be very proud of me and of the message Alzheimers New Zealand are spreading to educate yourself more about dementia. It can affect so many of us in so many ways.

Charlotte Towers