Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Friday, 22 September 2006 09:51 UK

'I have already mourned my mother'

Sir Cliff Richard
Sir Cliff said the family took a long time to spot the problem
Singer Sir Cliff Richard's 86-year-old mother Dorothy has advanced dementia.

She went into a specialist care home 10 years ago, but was affected by dementia for sometime before that. Now, she is no longer able to communicate.

To mark World Alzheimer's Day Sir Cliff spoke to the BBC Radio 4 programme You and Yours.

"We did not know that there was anything wrong with her - we thought her memory was going.

We used to joke about it.

My mother does not have a life

She'd say: 'I'm getting so stupid, I can't remember', and I would say: 'Oh, come on, I can't remember what I'm doing tomorrow - I'm not stupid, I've just got a bad memory.' If only we had known.

My sister Joan looked after my mother, and there was a point when she'd say: 'Mother is being so belligerent', and they used to get into arguments.

Now my sister says to me: 'If only I had known early on that this was what it was. I would have just said 'yes, mum, no, mum' and just made her happy' - because that's all we can do.

It got to the point when my sister used to phone me up and say: 'I can't do this any more. We have just found mum walking about in the village lost. I have a family, I can't be chasing after her.'

Residential home

We found a fabulous home for her, but even then when we left my mum at the home she used to say: 'Oh, don't leave me here.'

She was still compos mentis enough to be able to say that, and it really hurt us. It was like we were doing her a terrible disservice.

We did feel guilty at first when we had to put her in a home, but she needed 24-hour a day care

But only a few months in we found that if we could distract her, if she looked the other way, we could leave. Then we did not have the pain of her looking at us, and she would forget us instantly.

The people there said she never looked back, because the minute she looked away she had something else to look at and all the things she had talked to us about were gone.

In that respect it is a gentle disease. My mother knows nothing about political uproars, about terrorists, she does not know what time it is, does not know what month it is, or how bad the weather is outside.

She is living, but what it does is take away your life. My mother does not have a life.

I have talked with my sisters, and said I personally felt as though I have already mourned my mum because the person we have with us is not the vibrant woman that we all knew.

Now we find we have really nice visits. We chose to go at lunchtime, and they bring her food which is like baby food, and we feed her because she can't feed herself.

She was always terribly short-sighted. She still has her glasses on, so we come as close as we can to her and hope that she can see us, but I am not sure she can recognise us.

Always looked good

When I went out with my mother they thought she was my new girlfriend. She looked fantastic right until the time the dementia really took a hold.

We have lost our mother, but we still have the woman who gave us life

She always looked great, very, very much younger than her age.

Now, of course, dementia takes all that away. She doesn't care about what she looks like, she doesn't think about wearing anything, she stays in bed. It's not fair that she should just be here dressed in a night gown.

We did feel guilty at first when we had to put her in a home, but she needed 24-hour-a-day care. Now we feel she has real care.

I'm not able to visit as much as I would like, and very often when we go she is asleep. We always go in pairs now. If I went on my own I wouldn't have anyone to talk to.

I think she quite enjoys the fact that when my sister and I, or my niece and I go, we take it in turns to feed her mouthfuls of food, and she can look from one to the other, and we become a little tiny community again.

I think she does not recognise me anymore. It is hard to tell anymore because she does not speak. There was a point when she used to mumble something, and we would hear one word in five, and just capture a little bit about what she was trying to say.

Now not only has she stopped walking and talking, but she has stopped moving at all.

We have lost our mother, but we still have the woman who gave us life, and we appreciate that, and do the best we can for her.

To come to terms with the fact that this happened to our mother, and there was nothing we could have done to have stopped it is bearable - but only just."

  • The full interview will be broadcast on You and Yours on Friday 22 September at 1204 GMT.

    Alzheimer's disease
    08 Jan 04 |  Medical notes


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