Updated: Jul 17, 2020
On the sad day that my Mum died in March 2017, the reality set in that I would not only have to take on the care of my Dad with Alzheimer’s, but that this would require relocating him 200 miles away from his home of 83 years - not an ideal scenario for someone navigating a life with dementia.
In the early days, I threw myself into ensuring he had excellent nutrition, exercise, creative opportunities and walks in the woods. The sad reality was though, that whilst Dad was with his family, he had been denied the ability to belong to a community that shared his generation’s experience. I was at a loss as to how to fill this gaping hole other than through extended Facetime calls with his friends in the North East.
I couldn’t have been more happy to find The Heather Club, a warm and compassionate community working to enhance their members lives. Anthony, the club manager was so welcoming and accommodating of Dad’s needs, Dad was offered a trial session to see whether he would like to become a member.
I drove to the Club wondering whether Dad would refuse to go in as my children had years before on the first day of each new school term, but when met at the door by Anthony’s big smile, asking Dad how he liked his coffee, explaining to us the programme for the day, and mentioning that if the weather held out, the group would be taking a trip out together to a local garden centre- Dad barely turned to say goodbye!
I drove away knowing Dad was in safe hands, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how happy Dad was at the end of the day and how bright he was for days afterwards. Most of our days in the 3 months leading to us finding the heather Club entailed me not quite meeting Dad’s requirements. He constantly wanted to know ‘What’s the programme?’ and wasn’t happy with our day unfolding spontaneously, or in any way understanding the fact that I was also attempting to work. At the Heather Club there is a tried and tested programme of activities to both make each member feel valued and to stimulate the mind and providing plenty of opportunities to reminisce.
Dad can never tell me what he’s done while at the Heather Club, but he comes out with a beaming smile and a helpful piece of paper which tells me what he’s done and what delicious freshly cooked meal he has had that day.
Every member has the chance to explore activities that bring them back to things they loved even if just by talking about them with books and magazines. Anthony sent me a photo after one of Dad’s days at the Heather Club and it stopped me in my tracks- a tear came to my eye to see the sheer joy and exuberance of my Dad reconnecting with dance in the company of his new community. Of course Dad loved to dance- I had totally forgotten!
I am grateful to the Heather Club for many things, but perhaps most of all for creating an environment where he can joyfully dance again, within a community that values his individuality, experience and happiness.