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ONLINE MAGAZINE: SOCIAL INCLUSION

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Online magazine: Social inclusion

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My Nan's story

17/02/2014

By Chloë Allen

Most people know a little of the truth about disabilities, but only if they can see it. I am no expert -but I have a story.

We were told that 60 was very young to contract Alzheimer's disease, but there was nothing we could do. I was only about five when I was told that my nanny was losing her memory; I thought that's what happens to all older people. It was only simple things at first: the tea going cold, forgetting to put the tea bag in, or to turn the kettle on - five times she would offer us a cup of tea. Amusing at first, but none of us knew what was to come - how were we supposed to?

Now, at age 16, I understand the extent of my nan's illness. It's got worse - to the extent she cannot remember anyone's names, how to talk properly or even how to stand up. Nan's life was now in danger: forgetting to close the front door, leaving the water running, deciding she wanted to go for a walk along the motorway.

For a long time, people asked me how my nan was. How should I respond? Every time I get the sympathetic response that, 'it's such a shame'. Of course it is: my nan was a perfectly healthy foster mum and I do not expect many people to understand; we knew nothing of this until it happened to us.

It was hard - for her, for my granddad (her full-time carer), for my family. Eventually, my granddad struggled to take care of my nan.

I had never realised that there were separate homes for people with mental disabilities. Is this how we treat such people in our society - segregate them? Visiting my nan in a home is difficult, to say the least. I could not love my nan any more than I already do, but seeing someone who has a 'different mindset' is hard to accept. Every time I see her, I tell myself that she is happy and that she is secretly enjoying her life, in her own special way. The reality? I have no idea. Occasionally she smiles at me (deliberately); it is her way of saying that the world is ok and that I have nothing to fear.

With little direct experience, why would my friends know about mental disabilities? I think it is safe to say that the only people who do so have someone close to them with a disability. Do we all need to know more? I do think that everyone, regardless of whether they have had any experience of disabilities, should be aware of them - especially in recognising the symptoms.

Respecting your elders is something that has always come naturally to me, but is there a difference if they are different? It's true what they say: treat others how you would want to be treated... it could happen to you or to someone you love!