South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has opened her heart over her family’s battle with dementia
Mrs Lewell-Buck will dedicate her efforts at next month’s Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk in the town to ‘the strongest and bravest person she has ever known’ - her gran.
The town’s MP has spoken about Eleanor Lewell’s battle with dementia which, she says, reduced a tough, formidable woman to a ‘mere shell’.
The Alzheimer’s Society, who organises the walk, revealed last year that 2,128 people - around one in 80 - were suffering from the degenerative brain disease in South Tyneside.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “My gran was one of the strongest and bravest people I have ever known. She once staged a sit in at Jarrow Town Hall to demand my mam and dad get a new council home because the one they were living in was in a terrible state – and it worked.
“She was a tough woman – hard as nails – and took no nonsense from anyone, so it was especially difficult to see her lose that edge.”
We’re both really looking forward to it.Emma Lewell-Buck
She added: “I know people can live well with dementia and that the illness does not completely strip them of their identity.
“But it did feel to me like my gran was disappearing before my eyes.
“She became a mere shell of the woman she once was, even though I knew she was still in there somewhere.
“Dementia affects everyone differently. I understand that. But in my gran’s case the deterioration was rapid.
“She stopped doing the things she used to enjoy and became tearful and distressed a lot of the time. Sometimes she’d look right through you as if you weren’t there. It was really strange and terribly sad.
“She died in 2003, aged 85, before I even became a councillor, but I know she’d have been proud of me. She would have been out in the streets telling everyone about her granddaughter!”
Mrs Lewell-Buck has long been a vociferous critic of the poor state of adult social care in the UK.
Her views, she says, have been shaped in part by her gran’s experiences after the family took the “heart-wrenching, emotional” decision to place her in a residential care home.
She recalled: “Gran escaped from the first home she was in and was found alone, shivering in a field.
“She seemed happy enough in the second home but even then suffered an injury through the carelessness of staff.
“Frankly, I’m fed up with people acknowledging there’s a problem with adult social care but not coming up with solutions.
“I realise the answer isn’t always to throw money at a problem, but ultimately we are going to need investment and joined up thinking if we are going to make progress.”
Along with her small team of staff in South Shields, Mrs Lewell-Buck recently became a Dementia Friend – undergoing a short course to learn more about the condition that directly affects 850,000 people in the UK.
She said: “Even though I’ve had first-hand experience of dementia because of my gran I still found it fascinating.
“More businesses should be signing up to become Dementia Friends – I’d recommend the course to everyone.”
More than 4,000 people are set to take part in this year’s Memory Walk.
The event, which will be taking place at Saturday, October 8 in Bents Park, South Shields, is suitable for all ages and abilities.
The walk had to be moved to the borough, from its original location of Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside, due to its popularity
There are two routes, covering either 1.5km or 7km, both starting at 11am.
Mrs Lewell-Buck’s husband Simon, a former care worker who is now on her staff, will be joining her for Memory Walk.
She added: “We actually signed up for it separately, but we’re both really looking forward to it.
“The route goes through Bents Park and then along to coast and looks amazing, but let’s face it, why wouldn’t it be? Shields is lush!”
Participants must register in advance.
For information visit www.memorywalk.org.uk or call 0300 330 5452.