Dementia claimed my dad as I helplessly watched him

Dementia

Elizabeth Mutunga, the chief executive officer of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Organisation of Kenya, speaks about her family’s experience with Alzheimer’s at her home in Lang’ata on September 18, 2019. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

As the world marks World Alzheimer’s Month, Elizabeth Mutunga, 44, shares about her family’s experience when her father was diagnosed with the disease.

“Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s during one of his regular appointments in 2007. By then, the condition was seen as a white man’s disease.

I had enrolled for a counselling course around the same time, and I decided to research more on the condition and wrote a special paper.

These research showed that my dad had carried the symptoms for 17 years yet it was misdiagnosed.

Let me go back to the beginning. In the early 1980s, my dad had been a high-ranking policeman. Whenever he came back from work, he would sit and read to us in his uniform.

Mum was the disciplinarian, so my three siblings and I would always run to dad a lot after fighting with her.

In 1985, he went into a diabetic coma and was in the hospital for a while. This meant that he had to be retired early on medical grounds.

CANCER TRAGEDY

I was in Class Five and life changed. We were used to getting preferential treatment because of his position at work. Now we had to move from a government house to a low-cost area.

Then, in 1989, tragedy struck again. We lost our last born sister to cancer. She was daddy’s girl, they were inseparable so her death hit him hard.

He went into this shell and he was always sad or angry. He would beat us up, at the slightest provocation. This would remain his personality for the years to follow.

Seeing the physical and psychological changes in my dad left mum frustrated. She almost went into depression due to the constant fights and arguments.

It was sad for us all, seeing his condition deteriorate each passing day. Being half Kamba, the witchcraft rumours started circulating. It was a hard time for our family.

LIFESTYLE CHANGE

My dad had always been a stickler for excellence, especially in his appearance. Now here he was dressed in pajamas on top of his favourite Kaunda suits. He was also losing money and accusing us of stealing it.

When I was in Form Four, he moved us from our four-bedroomed maisonette in Uhuru Estate into a mabati house around the corner, saying, ‘Jesus is coming back soon so these material things will not matter anymore.’

The shame of the status change was immense. More people dropped from our circle. Very few would visit.

My mum would have preferred to move us to shags but we had not yet built a home there.

Soon after, dad started selling the car parts. I had also just finished my high school education at the time and my sister was waiting to join Form One.

All of a sudden, dad said that she couldn’t because she was not married yet. My mum had been a stay-at-home mum, which meant that I had to step in and help the family with the basic needs, as well as my younger siblings through school. I had to look for a job at 17 after completing my O’ levels.

SUPPORT GROUP

Dad also started to walk everywhere instead of using public transport, no matter the distance.

I remember him walking from Uthiru, where he lived, to Aga Khan Hospital to visit me…

Read the full story on The Daily Nation

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