'Dementia might take over but she’ll always be our mum'

Graeme and Kirstin found it mentally and physically draining when their mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease aged 59.

Former high school science teacher Linda Sutherland spoke three languages and was passionate about reading and research. 

Her children described her as a caring and loving woman who spoiled them. 

But when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at 59-years-old, they found themselves having to take on the role of being her carers. 

Her son Graeme first noticed she was behaving unusually during a trip to London.

Speaking to Scotland Tonight, Graeme said: “Her clothes weren’t the cleanest, and she was putting them on inside out.

“She was spraying deodorant inside her shoes, and when I asked her about it she would say she meant it, as if she was trying to hide that what she was doing wasn’t normal.

“No matter how many times I showed her how to press a button on the camera, she just couldn’t do it and she got really upset.”

Linda’s husband died a short time before she started displaying symptoms of dementia, which doctors initially put down to depression. But Graeme and his twin sister Kirstin knew that wasn’t the only explanation. 

Kirstin said: “The hospital phoned and told me she had Alzheimer’s. I was quite teary obviously, but had to show face for mum.

“We just sat her down, and asked her ‘do you think you might have a wee bit of dementia, or Alzheimer’s?’ She said ‘yeah, I do’. And I said ‘well don’t be scared, and don’t be frightened, because we’ll always be here for you.'”

Graeme and Kirstin, who were only in their early 20s at the time, cared for their mum around the clock. 

“We kind of just winged it to begin with,” said Graeme. “Her (Kirstin) working night shift, me working days, so we’d always swap over so there was always someone there.

“But after a couple of years it became draining. At the weekend, we wanted to rest, but we had to take her out. So it took a toll on us, mentally and physically.”

Kirstin agrees that the experience was isolating. She said: “People aren’t all carers, so you start to lose friends that you don’t see as much, because they don’t understand the concept of having to be there 24 hours a day.”

Graeme and Kirstin.

Graeme began posting videos on social media site TikTok, documenting the family’s experience with dementia in a bid to support others going through the same thing and to learn more about it himself. 

“I’ve learned everything from Googling it, and just dealing with it, but there’s not been anything out there to help you going through things like that. You just didn’t see it online at that point, especially someone who looks like my mum.”

Linda, now 68, is living in a care home, after her needs became too complex for her family to handle alone. Since she was diagnosed, they have been supported by the charity Alzheimer Scotland. 

Kirstin said: “We still do care for her, but not in the intense way that we were for such a long time. We always said that the dementia might take over, but it wouldn’t define her. She’ll always be our mum.”

Support is available through Alzheimer Scotland, at helpline@alzscot.org, or by phoning 0808 808 3000.

Catch the full report on Scotland Tonight: Living with Dementia, on the STV Player

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